‘Itty bitty’ falloposcope imaging device first used inside fallopian tubes

Jennifer Barton, director of the BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona, developed the high-resolution falloposcope. [Photo courtesy of the University of Arizona]

After years of development, researchers at the University of Arizona have captured their first images inside the fallopian tubes with a new device that could be used to look for early signs of ovarian cancer.

Director of the BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona, Jennifer Barton, developed the high-resolution falloposcope, which has a diameter of just 0.8 mm.

“It’s very small,” she said in a press release. “You just couldn’t have made something like this even six, seven years ago.”

Dr John Heusinkveld has been using the falloposcope since September to look inside the fallopian tubes of four volunteers who were having their tubes removed for non-cancerous reasons.

“This is the first endoscope that can go into a fallopian tube and actually see anything below the surface with high resolution,” said Heusinkveld, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the College of Medicine – Tucson and Certified Specialist. in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery at Banner – University Medical Center in Tucson.

The 20-patient pilot trial will allow researchers to test the effectiveness of the device and understand what cancer-free tubes look like for comparison, with Heusinkveld providing the engineering team with ease of use and efficiency feedback.

“The goal here is to show that we can enter the fallopian tubes — which is not trivial in itself — to take images, assess image quality, and get feedback from doctors,” Barton said. “This study will help establish a baseline of the range of what ‘normal’ looks like.”

How Barton’s falloposcope works

Barton’s falloposcope device examines metabolic and functional changes in tissues with fluorescence imaging, structural changes with optical coherence tomography, and collects other tissue information with white light reflection imaging.

Barton spent nearly a decade on the device. The US military has been funding its clinical development since 2018.

FDA approval and availability of the device is not expected for several years. Barton is working with the university’s Tech Launch Arizona on marketing strategies.

The human impact

Jennifer Barton, director of the BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona

Jennifer Barton, director of the BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona [Photo courtesy of the University of Arizona]

The team hopes to use the device in patients at high risk for cancer not only to catch cancer early, but also to avoid unnecessary tubal removal.

More than half of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer die within five years of diagnosis because most cases escape detection until late stages. If the new falloposcope can detect cancer earlier, surgeons can remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes (with prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomies) before the cancer spreads.

Ovarian cancer is thought to usually start in the fallopian tubes, so women at risk may opt for preventive removal despite the side effects of surgically induced menopause.

In one study, Barton said, 122 at-risk women had their tubes removed, but an examination of the removed tubes showed only seven developed cancer.

“This device could allow us to say to those 115 other women, ‘Hey, you’re perfectly normal, and we’ll be coming back to see you every two years to make sure you’re okay,'” Barton said.

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