A biomedical engineer at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, has developed an inexpensive, endoscopic microscope that, he says, can produce real-time, high-resolution, sub-cellular tissue images. The fiber-optic device, which is portable, re-usable, and easily packaged with conventional endoscopes, could help clinicians detect and diagnose early-stage disease, primarily cancer.

Considered an optical biopsy, an endoscopic microscope can obtain histological images from inside the human body in real-time.

The system also serves as an intraoperative monitoring device by helping clinicians target locations on lesions prior to and during surgical biopsies by capturing high-resolution images of tumor margins in real time, which can enable surgeons to see whether they have completely removed a tumor.

The microscope is built from a single fiber optic bundle made up of thousands of flexible, small-caliber fibers. This bundle is roughly 1 millimeter in diameter and could be inserted into the biopsy channel of a standard endoscope. The entire system, which fits into a conventional-sized briefcase, costs approximately $2,500.