Archive for January 4th, 2012

That’s a tiny endoscope…

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 by Roberto Saracco

The invention of endoscope in the last century was a giant step forward in diagnostic tools. It became possible to look inside a body and check what was going on. As time went by, the endoscope have become more flexible, tinier, and have been equipped with appendages to pick up or deliver “stuff”.

A drawing rendering the insertion of the endoscope tip into a cell

Now, I run into this news, where endoscopy has been moved to a whole new level of “tininess”.

Researchers at Berkeley have managed to create an endoscope using an optical fiber (smaller than the one we normally use in telecommunications where the core, measuring 8micron, is embedded into a cladding and a protecting casing) and a nanowire made of tin. The tip of the endoscope is s minuscule that they have been able to put it through the cell membrane without any damage to the cell.

The light carried through the optical fibre illuminates the inside of the cell making it possible to observe its organelles,something that is difficult from the outside of the cell because of light diffraction induced by the cell membrane.

They also have experimented with the endoscope to deliver specific molecules to the exact place they were intended to. Nothing like this was ever done before.

Clearly one cannot imagine to use this approach to deliver drugs to cells, since you would have to repeat the procedure thousands of times, given the fact that thousands of cells are usually involved. However, this endoscope opens up the possibility to study the cell working at the level of its organelles. This knowledge should prove very important in devising appropriate cure.