Researchers developing what they say would be the world's smallest 3D camera suggest that it could revolutionize brain surgery, allowing surgeons to see tiny details inside the brain as they operate.

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, are developing a surgical endoscope that would be instrumental in carrying such a camera into the brain with the goal of faster, safer neurosurgery procedures.

Researchers have dubbed the system MARVEL, for Multi Angle Rear Viewing Endoscopic tool.

Endoscopes are devices that can examine the inside of an organ or body part through a small opening; an endoscope designed for brain surgery would not require an open craniotomy, the traditional surgical technique in which a large portion of the skull is removed to give access to the brain.

The camera on MARVEL is just 0.2 inches in diameter and just over a half-inch long, mounted on a highly maneuverable endoscope that can move side-to-side or look around 120-degree corners.

"With one of the world's smallest 3D cameras, MARVEL is designed for minimally invasive brain surgery," said project principle investigator Harish Manohara.

Manohara is collaborating with Dr. Hrayr Shahinian, a surgeon at the Skull Base Institute in Los Angeles, who approached the California lab about creating this technology.

Current imaging endoscopes being used in minimally invasive procedures elsewhere in the body employ traditional two-camera systems to create 3D images.

Delicate brain surgery procedures, however, need even smaller endoscopes, so the MARVEL camera has been designed with a single lens.

That lens can generate 3D images with two apertures – similar to the pupils in human eyes – each equipped with a color filter.

The aperture's filter is sensitive to particular wavelengths of blue, green and red light, while blocking the wavelengths the other filter is sensitive to.

Images from the two aperture/filter lens components are brought together to create a 3D effect.

A prototype has been successfully demonstrated in the lab, and researchers say the next goal is to create a clinical prototype for submission to the U.S. Food and Drug Administrations for certification and approval.

"As a skull base surgeon with a specific vision of endoscopic brain surgery, it has been a privilege and a great personal honor working with the JPL team over the past eight years to realize this project," Shahinian said.

The JPL engineers say their MARVEL camera system could have applications beyond the medical field, including space exploration missions, where small robots equipped with a MARVEL camera could explore geological features of other worlds.

"You can implement a zoom function and get close-up images showing the surface roughness of rock and other microscopic details," Manohara explained.

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.