Brazilian scientists created an optical fiber composed of agar, a substance derived from marine algae, which can be used in medicine to obtain images of body structures, to provide internal lighting and localized medications as the procedure warrants.
In general, fiber optics is usually associated with good performance in telecommunications. Made of glass and slightly thicker than human hair, these fibers transmit light at a significantly better rate than electrical cables.
For a team of researchers from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), Brazil, this technology went to another level, this time linked to medicine. They created an edible and biodegradable device that can be used in complex medical procedures. Due to its composition, this kind of optical fiber allows the evaluation and manipulation of biological systems through their interaction with light.
“They promise to be useful technologies for in vivo imaging applications; for light delivery in phototherapy and optogenetics procedures; localized drug delivery; and biochemical detections, since the probe can be implanted and then fully absorbed by the body,” explains the investigation.
The research was led by Unicamp professors Eric Fujiwara (Faculty of Mechanical Engineering), Cristiano Cordeiro (Institute of Physics), in collaboration with Hiromasa Oku, of Gunma University, Japan.
Made of agar, a gelatinous substance obtained from various species of seaweed, consists of a diameter of 2.5 millimeters with six cylindrical air holes of 0.5 millimeter in diameter each that surround a solid core.
The fiber was tested in air, water, ethanol and acetone and suffered structural changes in its temperature, humidity and pH, making it suitable for “optical sensing,” Fujiwara told the Brazilian agency Fapesp.
Inside the body it would allow, for example, to illuminate areas for procedures such as laser-assisted surgeries or to be used for phototherapeutic treatments, which consist of the application of light to cure diseases on the skin or even to treat disorders like depression.
Its biodegradable and edible nature also allows it to function as a tube and supply localized medications, or any kind of substance and nutrients, which will then disappear when absorbed within the body, explains the study published in the scientific journal Nature.