Germany: Fibre-Optic Probes Watching Brain Cells at Work in Living Organisms
In order to obtain high-resolution images from regions of the body difficult to reach, such as the brain, without causing extensive damage to it, hair-thin endoscopy probes are required.
Jena/Germany — Prof. Tomáš Čižmár’s research work concerns new methods of controlling light propagation in optical fibres. The aim of his research work is to produce miniaturized fibre-optic probes which would enable him to observe individual brain cells at “work” in a living organism.
Through a better understanding of so far rather unexplored fundamental biological processes, researchers hope to find answers to complex questions. Such as how memories are anchored in our brain and how we recall them again. The technology could be useful to better understand the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or other severe neurological disorders.
Conventional fiber-based endoscopes would be too large for such interventions. They are mostly comprised of a bundle of several optical fibers, in which each fibre transmits one pixel of the image. A holographic method developed by Tomáš Čižmár now allows transmission of high resolution images through a single optical fiber that is as thin as a tenth of a millimetre.
Until recently, complex and hardly predictable light propagation in such multi-mode fibers prevented their use in microscopy. The imagery received from these fibers is entirely scrambled and chaotic. "By means of digital holography and computer algorithms, we succeeded in restoring the distorted images. High resolution microscopy with extremely thin fibers opens up a window to study processes in previously inaccessible regions in living organisms — possibly also in a human someday,” Tomáš Čižmár opines about the future of the technology.
For his research project Lifegate, Tomáš Čižmár received the well-recognized Consolidator Grant funded by the European Research Council (ERC) — a distinction for excellent scientist. The ERC funds the project of the 38 year old scientist at Leibniz-IPHT for the duration of five years.
Tomáš Čižmár intends to first study more precisely the processes of light propagation in multi-mode fibers. To eventually use the technology also in the micro endoscopy, the fibers must be above all flexible. That is indeed a challenge, because as the fibers bend, the transmitted image becomes distorted differently. The researcher is hoping to find a solution to this problem by understanding the propagation of light in the fiber more accurately.
Čižmár also plans to increase the relatively slow speed of the transmission by employing faster graphics processors and better data processing algorithms.