Now, sensors to detect cancers early
Researchers are developing a cutting-edge sensor that will help detect and diagnose cancers early, potentially saving many more lives.
The new technology is the vision of doctoral researcher Emma Carland from the Swinburne University of Technology.
Inspired by her experience helping sick children in intensive care at The Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Carland decided to use her biomedical engineering skills to give people a better chance against illnesses.
"I maintained and tested life-support medical equipment such as drug pumps and respirators, and saw how the kids rely on these tools in their day-to-day struggle for life," Carland said.
"This was a powerful motivation for me to embark on this research."
Her work is based on an optical-fibre touch sensor as fine as a human hair built by her supervisors, Paul Stoddart and Scott Wade, last year to prevent injuring delicate ear tissues during cochlear implant insertion, according to an university statement.
The sensor is built into an optical fibre - a technology that has revolutionised communications - that sends light between its two ends.
Due to its tiny size and fast transmission of signals, optical fibres are often used in medicine, including endoscopies and keyhole surgeries.
"A tumour is stiffer than cells from a healthy area," Carland said.
"So, the difference between the sensor's signals tells you how stiff the tissue is - a diseased tissue, being firmer, will push back at the sensor with more force, resulting in a larger difference."
The long, thin and flexible structure of the fibre sensor will also allow it to be inserted into endoscopes that explore small tissue regions, such as ear, nose, throat cavities and the colon.