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A new camera-fitted brain needle unveiled at the University of Adelaide

Photo: Camera-fitted brain probe unveiled in SA
A new camera-fitted brain needle has been unveiled at the University of Adelaide and it is expected to make neurosurgery safer and save lives.

A camera-fitted brain-probing needle might sound like something to steer well clear of.

But for those forced to have brain surgery in the future, then it might just be the device the neurosurgeon needs to have.

The high-tech tool, dubbed the "smart needle", has been unveiled at the University of Adelaide and researchers say it will save lives.

It's a biopsy needle fitted with a fibre-optic camera the size of a human hair, allowing neurosurgeons to see inside a brain as they work and avoid blood vessels.

"It's like a tiny flashlight that allows the surgeon to see into the brain," University of Adelaide's head of biophotonics Professor Robert McLaughlin said on Friday.
Currently neurosurgeons take a scan of a brain before an operation and use this to guide them during surgery.

But the new tool allows them to see the brain on a screen in real-time, including small blood vessels that they otherwise couldn't see.

"If you put a biopsy needle into someone's brain and hit a blood vessel, you can kill them," Prof McLaughlin said.

"This will make neurosurgery safer."

Key to the development was making a camera lens small enough to fit inside the needle.

The tool was developed over almost a decade in a collaboration between the University of Adelaide, the University of Western Australia and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in WA.

It has already been used in a successful pilot trial with 12 patients in WA and it will be ready for formal clinical trials in 2018.

Prof McLaughlin is hopeful the needle, which is made in Adelaide, will be in surgeons' hands within five years.

"We've taken this from an idea on a whiteboard and shown we can actually use it in human surgery," he said.

"The next part of the journey is to commercialise it."

Education Minister Simon Birmingham attended the unveiling on Friday and tried out the needle on a tomato.

He said this tool, and similar kinds of high-tech developments, would be crucial in creating jobs in Australia's changing economy.

"These are exactly the types of high-technology breakthroughs that can create the jobs of the future," he said.

"While not everybody will be a researcher or neurosurgeon, many jobs can be created in the manufacture and sale of products like this."


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