Originally Published MDDI January 2006
R&D Digest: The monthly review of new technologies and medical device innovations.
By Brendan Gill
A team of Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA) biologists has invented a miniature microscope to see the inner workings of mice brains. The technology could eventually be used to image brain tumors and film neuron activity.
The team of biologists, led by Mark Schnitzer, have used it to view blood vessels a few millimeters below the surface of mice brains. They hope the tiny microscope, called a microendoscope, will enable them to view brain cells in the same manner. The team's use of tiny piezoelectric motors helped them “make an entire device that is small,” says Ben Flusberg, a graduate student who worked on the project.
“[The microendoscope] is a tour de force in micromechanics and microelectronics,” says Britton Chance, a biophysicist at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).
The device weighs 3.9 g and has a resolution of 1 µm. The microendoscope is placed on the end of a 1-mm probe and inserted into a small hole drilled in the head of an anesthetized mouse. The device uses a near-infrared light to illuminate blood vessels that have been injected with a fluorescent marker called fluorescein. The probe picks up light emitted by the vessels, which is recorded by the microendoscope. The images are then viewable on a computer screen. However, the device cannot pinpoint the vessels' location, so there is no way to know exactly where in the brain the probe is taking images.
Future applications could include inserting the microscope into the brain of a conscious animal and filming the neuron activity, as well as imaging brain tumors.
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