UK engineers develop tiny camera for imaging inside veins and arteries

In a claimed “watershed moment” for intravascular surgery, engineers at Cambridge Consultants have developed a prototype high-definition camera able to provide a detailed view of the inside of veins and arteries.

The advanced imaging technology, called ‘Leap’, builds on the latest generation of sub-millimetre cameras developed by US firm Omnivision.

The camera is based on a so-called “chip-on-tip” architecture, in which the imaging sensor is located at the distal end of the endoscope, in contrast to traditional fibre bundles which transmit light to large, external processing towers.  The device features a 400 x 400 pixel image (0.16 megapixels) as a standard capability, which represents an order of magnitude improvement over standard fibre-optic angioscopes. Cambridge Consultants claims that the image processing technology could increase this resolution further to 1600 x 1600 pixels (2.6 megapixels). Meanwhile, deep learning techniques are used to enhance low resolution images without the blurring associated with traditional upscaling.

Current surgical endoscopes are not widely used in angioscopy due to poor flexibility, a limited field of view and low resolution.

At 1.35mm in diameter, the Leap early prototype is small and flexible enough for use in a procedure such as intracoronary angioscopy. The firm claims that the technology increases the information available to surgeons by enabling them to carry out tissue classification or direct imaging of non-standard vascular occlusions and that it could be paired with other technologies such as IVUS (Intravascular Ultrasound) and OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) to enable enhanced diagnostic techniques during surgery.

Existing endoscopes also carry an elevated risk of infection and device damage due to inadequate sterilisation between procedures. Leap overcomes a number of these barriers, being an inexpensive, single-use endoscope and can be operated from a standard computer, not relying on the availability of large and expensive operating room infrastructure.

Commenting on the development of the device Simon Karger, head of Surgical and Interventional Products at Cambridge Consultants said: “We have combined our intravascular device experience with our knowledge of micro‑optics, systems engineering and AI, in conjunction with external manufacturing partners. The result is an economically viable, disposable camera system that is small enough to fit into the working channel of a typical vascular catheter.”

The technology will be showcased at Asia Pacific MedTech Forum 2018 in Singapore, October 9th to 10th, Stand 25.