Hamburg, 07/06/2017 | Story Patience has its rewards
Medical imaging has made rapid progress in recent years. It is now possible to capture very high resolution, 3D images of the inside of a patient’s body. Olympus is a medical imaging pioneer and regularly brings new innovations to market. For example, the imaging platform VISERA ELITE II, which is compatible with the new ENDOEYE 3D. But the process that leads to a product launch tests the patience of researchers and developers to the limit. Which just goes to show: If you want to reshape the future, you can’t let setbacks get you down.
In 1895, physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered x-rays, completely by chance. In a darkened laboratory he was conducting an experiment with cathode rays (passing streams of electrons through a vacuum tube containing a small amount of inert gas) when suddenly he noticed other objects in the lab had started to glow. But in R&D scientists don’t usually get that lucky. Take the doctors Barry Marshall and Robin Warren. In 1979, they discovered the bacterium heliobacter pylori, but it was years before they could prove this was the culprit that caused stomach ulcers – and not stress as was previously thought.
“The idea of combining the ENDOEYE 3D with the VISERA ELITE II was so obviously beneficial, it made me extra resistant to frustration.”
As this case shows, setbacks are an important part of progress. When it comes to medical research and development, determination is often a mandatory qualification, as physicist Dr. Peter Schouwink can testify. As General Manager for R&D Surgical Endoscopy at Olympus Surgical Technologies Europe (OSTE), Peter has had some challenging years. Together with his team, he helped develop an endoscope for the imaging platform VISERA ELITE II (see sidebar). To be precise, they devised a rigid 3D endoscope with a 30° field of view and integrated image rotation, that can also be sterilized post-op along with other instruments. But it took six years from the first idea until the ENDOEYE 3D was ready for launch. In that time the team had to keep overcoming obstacles – and keep its motivation.
The imaging platform VISERA ELITE II does more than provide doctors with a detailed view of the inside of the human body. Its extremely compact design also saves space and resources.
Teamwork delivers better medical technology
The myriad benefits of the ENDOEYE 3D make it unique in the global market. One of these benefits is handling – it’s much easier to use than endoscopes with an adjustable tip, which require intensive training because they are so flexible. What’s more, it’s not as sensitive as previous rigid 3D endoscopes, which can’t be sterilized with steam after use like other surgical instruments and have to be prepared separately for the next procedure instead. “We’ve been producing ENDOEYEs for a good 20 years and the team in Tokyo has been making the ENDOEYE FLEX 3D for about five years,” says Peter. “To combine the best features of all those devices sounds simple in principle, but the technology is a real challenge.”
The development process posed two major challenges for Peter and his team. “To overcome a difficult problem, it’s important not to try to do everything yourself,” he says. “You have to trust other people’s expertise.” When his team found they couldn’t produce sharp enough images, they called on the Olympus research center in Tokyo for help. Once they had found a solution together, the next step was to develop a prototype. That’s when they faced the second big challenge. In stereoscopic optics, the channels for the left and right eye have to be very precisely aligned. Which no one knew how to do. So the team turned to one of the Fraunhofer Institutes and together they eventually developed a mechanism to fine-tune the two channels. “We tap into the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft’s expertise on a regular basis,” explains Peter. “As a manufacturer of medical equipment, Olympus doesn’t try to be the leader in every single technology. It’s about working together with the right partners to bring the best medical technology to market for meeting future needs.”
High resolution for a better view of what’s inside
The result is an ultra-modern endoscope that, in combination with the VISERA ELITE II imaging platform, enables surgeons to work more safely and precisely than ever before. The platform is compatible with endoscopes designed for a variety of specialties, including general surgery, urology and gynecology. Compared to its predecessor, the VISERA ELITE II platform is much more compact, with the video system center, light source and 3D visualization unit all housed in one box. The compact design makes the platform easier to use and more efficient – it is operated via a clearly laid out LCD touchscreen. The VISERA ELITE II also supports narrow-band imaging (NBI) and infrared imaging (IR). NBI delivers better images of blood vessels and mucous membranes, which helps doctors identify cancer more precisely and gives operating surgeons a better view of their patient’s insides. This makes the VISERA ELITE II the first platform to offer all four options – 3D, 2D, IR and NBI.
“To overcome a difficult problem, it’s important not to try to do everything yourself. You have to trust other people’s expertise.”
Peter has worked on a variety of development projects over the course of his career, including some that were a real challenge. But nothing as complex or draining as the ENDOEYE 3D. So what stopped him from quitting? And how did he keep motivating his team? “The idea of combining the ENDOEYE 3D with the VISERA ELITE II was so clearly beneficial, it made me extra resistant to frustration in the development phase,” he says. “And my colleagues saw it the same way.”
Imaging will shape the future of medical technology
A special encounter with a surgeon convinced Peter all the effort was worthwhile. “We got to philosophizing with some other doctors about the future of medical technology,” he recalls. “One of the doctors said he liked our product portfolio, but wished we had a rigid ENDOEYE with 3D technology. Half an hour later I was showing him our ENDOEYE 3D prototype.”
Imaging is a trend that will help shape the future of medical technology. Of that Peter is sure. With the VISERA ELITE II platform and ENDOEYE 3D, Olympus is already a step ahead of its competitors, because both devices give doctors better images. Not that the team has time to rest. R&D marches on. According to Peter, toward ever higher resolutions. “I think we’re going to see 8K resolution in theaters,” he says. What’s more, 3D imaging will continue to dominate – because it can project a three-dimensional view of the inside of the body on a screen. That makes it easier for doctors to find their way and identify tissue in greater detail. They also maneuver more intuitively, which can make procedures safer and more precise. The greater range of examination options is another benefit, including NBI, as Peter explains: “If you inject fluorescent dye, it can be captured by a camera. That makes it possible to visualize lymph nodes that have been affected by a tumor, for example, and distinguish them from other tissue.” Procedures like these may in future help make operating theaters less stressful places to work. “If surgeons can see exactly what they’re doing on a screen, they can operate more efficiently and find it easier to stay calm if complications arise.”
The VISERA ELITE II at a glance
This imaging platform delivers with a variety of benefits. For example, the camera control unit, light source and 3D mixer are all integrated in one compact box, which not only saves space but also financial resources. What’s more, the VISERA ELITE II was specially developed to be easy to use without the need for extra training. It also offers new visualization options such as Narrow Band Imaging (NBI) and Infrared Imaging (IR), which offer surgeons more detailed visuals of the inside of the body than ever before.
Olympus and surgery
Olympus had already anticipated the use of endoscopes in surgery by the end of the 1960s. In 1979, it expanded its capabilities in this field by acquiring the German rigid endoscope manufacturer Winter & Ibe. Since then, Olympus has introduced numerous innovative products, including surgical endoscopes with high-definition imaging and the world’s first surgical energy device to simultaneously generate both high-frequency electric current and ultrasonic vibrations. Olympus now offers a complete range of laparoscopic equipment, from state-of-the-art imaging and innovative therapeutic devices to fully integrated operating room solutions. These advanced technologies have paved the way for the development of sophisticated, minimally invasive solutions.