By Dr. Euan Morrison
Historically, surgical technology has been characterized as relatively conservative with low levels of innovation. With a number of ground-breaking developments, this is no longer the case. One particularly interesting area that has advanced recently is the field of 3D endoscopy, where visualization technology is transforming the tools available to surgeons and the effectiveness of their procedures. This, together with some of the other visualization technologies being developed, puts us on the brink of a technology revolution within the surgical device arena.
An overview of medical visualization technologies and endoscopy is as follows. Over the past few decades, we have seen significant advances in medical visualization technologies with the emergence and widespread use of sophisticated techniques such as magnetic resonant imaging (MRI) and X-ray computed tomography (CT scanning). These methods enable the surgeon to non-invasively visualize the internal structure of the human body in high-resolution 3D, enabling a range of disease identification, screening and general medical applications.
In addition to these advanced visualization approaches, conventional optical visualization methods have also been advancing. One of the most interesting examples of this is surgical endoscopy.
The benefits of minimally invasive surgery are well documented with less tissue injury and scarring, quicker recovery time and shorter hospitals stays. The end result is a more successful surgery. The classical 2D endoscope is a key tool in this process, and enables the surgeon to visualize the surgical site through an optical scope, rather than direct viewing through an open wound.
Rather surprisingly, the first use of optical endoscopes for internal visualization of the human body was reported almost 200 years ago, although it wasn’t until the development of miniature electric light bulbs in the early 20th century that endoscopes started to receive more widespread use. More recently, the development of digital imaging and display technologies have driven much of the development of modern endoscope instruments.
Many of these advancements have been driven by activities in the consumer electronics and gaming worlds, and we see this trend continuing. Consumer applications have developed exponentially in response to the demand for increasingly sophisticated lighting, graphics, and visual effects all for a lower price point. As a result, the exotic semiconductor and imaging technologies just emerging from research labs 5 to 10 years ago are now widely available for use within the surgical arena.