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Dalhousie neuroscientist Dr. Alan Fine has invented a high-resolution microscope that can be made to fit on the tip of a biopsy probe. With support from a Brain Repair Centre Knowledge Translation (BRC-KT) grant, Dr. Fine and his collaborators will explore how this revolutionary new device can be used to diagnose brain tumours and improve the safe, efficient and thorough removal of cancerous tissues from the brain.

 “At the current time, brain tumours are diagnosed largely through core needle biopsies, which pose the risk of severing blood vessels in the brain as they cut through and remove tissue,” notes Dr. Fine, a professor in the departments of Physiology & Biophysics, Medicine (Division of Neurology), Pediatrics and the School of Biomedical Engineering. “My device would move tissues aside, rather than cutting through them, to microscopically view the inside of the brain without removing any tissue.”

The compact microscope probe would also allow surgeons and pathologists to search the site of a surgical tumour removal for stray cancerous cells that may have been missed—on the spot, without sending tissues out for examination during the surgery. This would reduce the amount of time patients spend under anesthesia, and provide a much more extensive assessment of how complete the removal of the cancer has been.

Dr. Fine has been able to engineer such a potentially small device by taking the radical approach of developing a microscope that has no lens.

“By using a so-called ‘near-field’ imaging approach, I’ve been able to eliminate the lens,” he explains. “This solves the problem we have struggled with for centuries in microscopy—the difraction of light—which causes a blur that degrades the resolution of even the most powerful lens-based microscopes.”

Dr. Fine’s lensless microscope achieves a degree and resolution of magnification that has until now only been possible with very bulky, very expensive equipment. “We’re capturing images of features that measure in the microns and nanometers, using a device that costs orders of magnitude less and can be the size of a cell phone, a memory stick, or even a toothpick,” he says. “The potential applications reach far beyond the brain, far beyond surgery and far beyond cancer.”

Dr. Fine and his collaborators foresee strong demand for devices incorporating these lensless microscopes, in research as well as in patient care. For Dr. Fine, creating this device is a natural progression in a career spent advancing optical imaging technology. As a key player on the development team that launched the world’s first commercially successful laser confocal scanning microscope—among other major advances in microscopy—he brings a wealth of experience to this new, made-in-Nova-Scotia endeavour.

Stay tuned for more stories featuring the important work of our Brain Repair Centre researchers.

Tuesday the 17th. © 2017. All rights reserved.. Bridgewater Media Services