Lung damage can be measured with a sensor almost as thin a human HAIR

Lung damage can now be measured with a sensor ‘as thin as a human HAIR’ which can probe depths other technology can’t reach

  • Probe contains 19 sensors that pick up on abnormalities deep in the lungs
  • Enables doctors to ‘instantly’ diagnose lung diseases like pneumonia
  • Also allows medics to monitor a treatment’s effectiveness in patients 

Scientists have developed a tube that can measure tissue damage in a patient’s lungs.

The probe, which is as thin as a human hair at just 0.2mm in diameter, contains 19 sensors that pick up on abnormal acidity and oxygen levels deep in the lungs. 

When put down a patient’s throat, the device could enable doctors to ‘instantly’ diagnose life-threatening lung disease, such as pneumonia, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

It also allows medics to monitor a treatment’s effectiveness in patients, with them currently relying on invasive, ‘inaccurate’ tests that ‘take minutes’.  

Scientists have developed a tube that measures tissue damage deep in a patient’s lungs. The device (pictured) is as thin as a human hair at just 0.2mm in diameter. It contains 19 sensors that pick up on abnormal acidity and oxygen levels in the lungs that suggest disease

The probe has been created by a team of scientists at the University of Edinburgh led by Dr Michael Tanner, a research fellow in the department of photonics and quantum sciences. 

‘This research is a great example of collaboration across disciplines to tackle healthcare challenges,’ Dr Tanner said. 

‘These new methods, if taken to clinic, will lead to novel insights in disease biology. 

‘Our aim now is to expand the number of unique sensors on this miniaturised platform to provide even more information.’ 

Somebody in the UK dies of a lung disease every five minutes, with one in five Britons suffering from a long-term respiratory illness, according to the British Lung Foundation.

And in the US, around 3.9million people have asthma alone, while 14.8million have been diagnosed with COPD, statistics show.  

To aid lung disease diagnosis and treatment success, the researchers created the probe.

Each of its sensors measures a different indicator of lung tissue health, such as pH and oxygen levels.


Asthma is a common but incurable condition which affects the small tubes inside the lungs.

It can cause them to become inflamed, or swollen, which restricts the airways and makes it harder to breathe.

The condition affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood. Symptoms may improve or even go away as children grow older, but can return in adulthood.

Symptoms include wheezing, breathlessness, a tight chest and coughing, and these may get worse during an asthma attack.

Treatment usually involves medication which is inhaled to calm down the lungs.

Triggers for the condition include allergies, dust, air pollution, exercise and infections such as cold or flu.

If you think you or your child has asthma you should visit a doctor, because it can develop into more serious complications like fatigue or lung infections.

Source: NHS  

Acidity and oxygen must be consistent to maintain a constant internal environment, known as homeostasis. 

If this gets out of sync, it can be an indicator of disease progression. 

To put the probe to the test, the researchers applied the device to a laboratory model of a sheep’s lungs. 

The lung model was also assessed using standard pH and oxygen metres. 

‘The [probe] pH measurements correlated well with the commercial pH metre demonstrating its robustness and sensitivity in the whole lung model,’ the researchers wrote in the journal Scientific Reports. 

Both the probe and standard oxygen meter also demonstrated a ‘good correlation to changes in the ventilated gas mixture’. 

And the device’s response to both changes in oxygen and pH levels between different liquids in the model were ‘instantaneous (less than one second)’. 

Existing technologies can already assess lung tissue function, however, these are invasive, which makes them ‘unsuitable’, the researchers wrote.

They also have ‘limited accuracy and range’, and can take several minutes to produce a result, they add. 

The newly-developed probe should speed up disease diagnosis, as well as making lung health assessments more accurate. 

The researchers even claim it could be used in other parts of the body to monitor inflammatory or bacterial disease. 

And more sensors could be added to the probe to boost its accuracy further. 

The next step is to test whether the device’s supposed benefits improve clinical outcomes, such as a reduction in symptoms or an improvement to a patient’s quality of life.

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