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Fiber Optic Sensors in Cryoablation

posted by Sruthi Karanam on 2020-08-11

What is Cryoablation?

As the field of medicine evolves, procedures that are minimally invasive are seen to be used more often across all specialties. A common minimally invasive procedure is ablation.  Out of all the types of ablation, the safest is cryoablation. Cryoablation is a technique in which extreme cold temperatures are used in order to destroy diseased tissue.

Some procedures that utilize cryotherapy includes the removal of skin tumors, precancerous skin moles, nodules, skin tags, retinoblastomas, and various types of cancers. In addition, cryoablation can also be used to treat heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation. This type of ablation is performed by circulating cool, thermally conductive fluids through hollow needles (cryoprobes). If this procedure is used to treat tissue on a topical surface, the cool gas will simply be applied to the skin.

However, if this procedure must be performed within the body, image guidance, cryoprobes, and a gas (ex. nitrogen or argon) that can create cool temperatures are necessary. Specifically, inside the body, cryoprobes are positioned next to the targeted tissue in a way such that the freezing will only destroy damaged tissue and not surrounding healthy tissue.

Challenges with Cryoablation

Although cryoablation is the safest form of ablation available, there are still complications that can occur as the result of the procedure. Some challenges include blisters, infections, scarring, discoloration of the skin, or ulcers. However, in extreme cases, cryoablation can result in damage to surrounding tissues, phrenic nerve injuries which can cause breathing complications, or deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot within a vein).

Such extreme cases can occur when the temperature being used in the procedure is not carefully monitored. Specifically, any temperature below –60 degrees Celsius puts patients in danger for fistula (an abnormal connection between 2 structures such as blood vessels) or ulcer formation. Even though during current cryoablation procedures other temperature monitoring systems such as CT (Computed tomography), MRI (magnetic resonance) or ultrasounds are being used, they are not effective due to not providing real time temperature readings. This lack of real time temperature readings allows for the increased likelihood of more severe complications as a result of the cryoablation procedure.

How Can Fiber Optic Sensors Help?

There are many advantages to using fiber optic temperature sensors in cryoablation procedures. These sensors are very easy to use because they can be integrated into much of the existing medical equipment already being used to perform the procedure. In addition, fiber optic temperature sensors have been found to be valuable within the medical field due to their small size and quick response time.

The quick response time is important because the leading cause of complications from this procedure is the inconsistent temperature monitoring. On the other hand, the small size allows for increased flexibility which is an important characteristic in order to be used within the cryoprobe. The property of chemical inertness that these sensors have is also essential because it allows for the usage of this equipment with no restrictions on what medications can be used within the procedure.

In addition to all the advantages of fiber optics that have been mentioned, the sensors’ ability to be immune to EM (electromagnetic) fields has expanded their applications greatly. The immunity to EM fields allows for the usage of other equipment without interference throughout the procedure. Overall, integrating fiber optic temperature sensors within existing medical technology will allow for increased patient safety with lower complication rates as a result of procedures involving temperature specifications.