Microscope-in-a-needle licensed for commercialisation

University of Western Australia

Wednesday, 15 February, 2017

A miniaturised optical imaging probe known as the microscope-in-a-needle, developed at The University of Western Australia (UWA), has been licensed to medical device company Miniprobes so that it can be commercialised for use by surgeons.

Created by a team led by Professor Robert McLaughlin and Professor David Sampson, the invention comprises a tiny fibre-optic imaging probe, small enough to be encased within a hypodermic needle, with the potential to allow surgeons to see deep inside the body during surgery. The probe is intended to guide breast cancer surgery and brain biopsies, helping surgeons better detect cancer cells that may otherwise be missed and avoid damaging blood vessels.

“The microscope-in-a-needle is a platform technology which can address multiple market needs,” said Professor McLaughlin. “For example, in brain surgery we’ve developed smart biopsy needles that can detect blood vessels, helping surgeons to avoid bleeds. In lung disease we’ve demonstrated that the microscope-in-a-needle can image individual alveoli... And we’ve developed multifunction probes that can image tissue and deliver small quantities of fluid at the point of imaging.”

The invention has already been awarded several accolades over the 10 or so years it has been in development, winning the Extreme Imaging Competition in 2014 as well as The Australian Innovation Challenge in 2015. But it is the partnership with Miniprobes which will launch the probe out of the lab and into the operating room, with the medical device company granted worldwide development and commercialisation rights for three patent applications associated with the technology.

“There has been an amazing team of researchers that have created this technology, and we are now turning that into real commercial opportunities,” said Professor McLaughlin, who now serves as managing director of Miniprobes. “There is a lot of interest from both doctors and other companies.”

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