A Dundee University study in fibre optics has found the technology, more often associated with broadband, could be instrumental in treating Alzheimer’s.
Research carried out by Dr Tom Cimr, of the university’s school of science and engineering, demonstrates that fibre optics can measure brain activity and observe what happens during the onset and progression of severe diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Dr Cimr and his team had already shown how using an extremely small and flexible single strand of fibre optic cable, sometimes as tiny as 0.05mm, would allow doctors to reach previously inaccessible areas in the human body in a minimally invasive way.
But they encountered a problem when light passed through the fibre, the optical paths were scrambled and the image was lost.
They then used the concept of digital holography to find out how the light became scrambled and, with this knowledge, unscrambled the light signals and recovered the image.
“We have been able to see images through the optical fibres for several years,” said Dr Cimr. “Until now, however, this has been possible only in rigid instruments. The new results will allow us to see through flexible micro-endoscopes which is a major step forward.
“My primary research is into the technology that will assist in understanding the functionality of the brain.
“There is only as much we can learn from sections of post-mortem tissues but our new technology can, for the first time, allow imaging processes such as memory formation inside living animals experiencing controllable sensory stimuli. Most importantly, we may be able to observe what happens when things go wrong during onset and progression of severe diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
The study also shows promise for overcoming “capacity crunch” the point where the internet will fail to keep up with demand for ever faster data.
By some estimates, cables and fibre optics that send information to laptops, smartphones and tablets may reach their limit within eight years.
Taking full advantage of technology could allow data communication with almost limitless speed, which would have a huge impact on industry across the globe.
The research was funded by Scottish Universities Physics Alliance via the Physics and Life Sciences initiative and the Distinguished and International Visitor Programme.