3D endoscope developed to aid brain surgery

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An endoscope containing a tiny 3D camera has been developed that could help doctors perform safer brain surgery. The MARVEL endoscope, standing for Multi-angle rear view endoscopic tool, is being developed at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

‘With one of the world’s smallest 3D cameras, MARVEL is designed for minimally invasive brain surgery,’ said Harish Manohara, principal investigator of the project at JPL. Manohara is working in collaboration with surgeon Dr Hrayr Shahinian at the Skull Base Institute in Los Angeles, who approached JPL to create this technology.

The camera is 4mm in diameter and 15mm long, and attached to a bendable neck that can look around corners with up to a 120° arc. Operations with the endoscope could negate the need for traditional open craniotomy, a procedure where parts of the skull are removed.

Stereo imaging endoscopes employing dual-camera systems are already in use for minimally invasive surgery elsewhere in the body, but operating on the brain requires an even smaller device. MARVEL uses only one camera lens in order keep the system small.

MARVEL’s camera generates 3D data by combining images from two apertures, each with its own colour filter. Each filter transmits distinct wavelengths of red, green and blue light, while blocking the bands the other filter is sensitive to. The system includes a light source producing the six colours to which the filters are attuned. Images from each of the two apertures are merged to create the 3D effect.

The researchers have demonstrated a laboratory prototype and will refine the system to make it suitable for medical use.

The MARVEL camera could also have applications in space exploration by integrating it onboard small robots. ‘You can implement a zoom function and get close-up images showing the surface roughness of rock and other microscopic details,’ Manohara commented.

Further information:

Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Skull Base Institute

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