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Confocal microscopes are powerful laser scanning microscopes that provide high resolution, high magnification images of specimens. They can provide magnification of more than 1,000 times, compared to conventional magnification in the order of 10 to 20 times. Confocal microscopes have, until now, been large, bulky instruments, most commonly used in research or laboratory settings.
When used to examine biological specimens, the principle of confocality allows these powerful microscopes to obtain images from beneath the surface of the specimens they examine. A laser is projected onto a pinpoint target in a specimen, either on or below the surface of the object to be magnified. The target area is scanned rapidly across a few cells at a time, and special optics are employed to ensure that only light returned from the pinpoint target at the specified depth is captured and measured. This signal is then displayed in real time as an image on a computer screen.
Optiscan’s patented technology makes it possible to use an optical fibre to transmit the laser from its source to illuminate a specimen. The same optical fibre can then be used to carry the return light back to an image acquisition system. This novel use of flexible optical fibre allows Optiscan’s designers to separate the large laser and control systems from the microscope’s scanning head.
Optiscan’s unique and patented technology has miniaturised the microscope’s scanning head, so that it is now so small it can fit inside the body. Once the miniaturised scanner is integrated into an endoscope to create an endomicroscope, doctors can for the first time safely and instantly get high quality images of tissue at a cellular level from their patients. This gives doctors new levels of information providing a highly magnified view of living tissue that is entirely consistent with the macroscopic views that they are used to seeing from their endoscopes. This breakthrough technology creates a vast array of new applications, both medical and industrial. Optiscan’s primary focus is in the medical arena, where it can provide a virtual biopsy, potentially revolutionising current pathology and histology practices.
The advantages, and therefore the real potential of Optiscan's laser and optical fibre technology, can be summarised as:
The high cost of curative medicine presents an opportunity for Optiscan’s technology. The endomicroscope is targeted at reducing this cost in a variety of ways, including early detection of diseases, at stages when they can be treated easily and effectively, and providing a means to monitor responses at the cellular level so as to enable improvement to treatment outcomes.