Mucociliary clearance (MCC) plays a significant role in maintaining the health of human respiratory system by eliminating foreign particles trapped within mucus. Failure of this mechanism in diseases such as cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) leads to airway blockage and lung infection, causing morbidity and mortality. The volume of airway mucus and the periciliary liquid encapsulating the cilia, in addition to ciliary beat frequency and velocity of mucociliary transport, are vital parameters of airway health. However, the diagnosis of disease pathogenesis and advances of novel therapeutics are hindered by the lack of tools for visualization of ciliary function in vivo.
Our laboratory has previously developed a 1-µm resolution optical coherence tomography method, termed Micro-OCT, which is capable of visualizing mucociliary transport and quantitatively capturing epithelial functional metrics. We have also miniaturized Micro-OCT optics in a first-generation rigid 4mm Micro-OCT endoscope utilizing a common-path design and an apodizing prism configuration to produce an annular profile sample beam, and reported the first in vivo visualization of mucociliary transport in swine. We now demonstrate a flexible 2.5 mm Micro-OCT probe that can be inserted through the instrument channel of standard flexible bronchoscopes, allowing bronchoscopic navigation to smaller airways and greatly improving clinical utility. Longitudinal scanning over a field of view of more than 400 µm at a frame rate of 40 Hz was accomplished with a driveshaft transduced by a piezo-electric stack motor.
We present characterization and imaging results from the flexible micro-OCT probe and progress towards clinical translation. The ability of the bronchoscope-compatible micro-OCT probe to image mucus clearance and epithelial function will enable studies of cystic fibrosis pathogenesis in small airways, provide diagnosis of mucociliary clearance disorders, and allow individual responses to treatments to be monitored.