Fiber Optics in Medicine

How Fiber Optics are Utilized For Medical Purposes

When you think of fiber optics, you likely think of their uses for internet and cable TV. However, fiber optics have other uses and are actually rather prevalent in the medical community.  

There are a variety of reasons why fiber optics are useful for medical purposes. For one thing, they are generally very small and not sensitive to electromagnetic disturbances. In addition, they can withstand high temperatures and radiation, and are not toxic to the human body. They have applications in neurology, cardiology, gastroenterology, and many other fields of medicine.

Fiber Optics and Minimally Invasive Surgery

Minimally invasive surgery is one of the most frequent ways fiber optics is used in medicine. Fiber optics are flexible and lightweight which makes them perfect for use with small incisions. There has been a global rise in the incidences of diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, kidney stones, and arthritis, which has created a greater demand for minimally invasive surgery. Traditional surgery utilizes much larger incisions which also carry more risk and bring much longer recovery time for patients. On the other hand, minimally invasive surgery comes with far less pain, faster recovery, and a lower risk of infection.

Medical Instruments That Utilize Fiber Optics

One of the most common applications of fiber optics in medicine is in endoscopes. Endoscopes are long, flexible tubes with a light and a camera on the end and are used to view nearly any spot within the  human body. The use of fiber optics in endoscopes also helps with the imaging and illumination components within these devices. Endoscopes are used to view the stomach and intestines, perform biopsies, and even provide medical treatment.

Another common usage of fiber optics in medicine is for biomedical sensors. These sensors can be used internally and externally and can measure a wide variety of different things within the human body. Some examples include:

  • Body Temperature
  • Blood Temperature
  • Heart Rate
  • Muscle Displacement

Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is another area where fiber optics are utilized in medicine. OCT is a type of biomedical sensor that captures 3-D images within the body. It is similar to ultrasound imaging, however, OCT utilizes light instead of sound. It can also be used internally when used in combination with endoscopes or catheters. This is invaluable when it comes to capturing images of an individual’s organs. It has become the standard for many medical procedures including the diagnosis of coronary artery disease. Fiber optics make this possible due to their flexible, small-scale nature.

Scientists at the Harvard Medical School are working on the development of a new technology that has the potential to treat tumors more efficiently and heal wounds at a much quicker pace. It utilizes something called photochemical tissue bonding. This process combines laser light with photo-sensitizing dyes in a way that can create bonds between tissue surfaces. How are fiber optics utilized in this process? Well, during their research, the scientists discovered that fiber optics allowed for tissue repair to take place much deeper within the human body. This is because fiber optics can be inserted into the body to deliver light to internal wounds. In addition, these fibers are able to be absorbed into the body on their own. This is invaluable because it eliminates the need for a later surgery in order to remove them.

Fiber optics are an invaluable tool in medicine. Due to their small size, non-toxic nature, and flexibility, they are immensely useful for a variety of procedures. Their use has led to safer surgeries, more efficient procedures, faster recovery times, and more thorough examinations.  

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