Xenoscope, an inexpensive laparoscope for minimally invasive surgery, was born of an
By MELINDA BECK
Two-thirds of the world’s population—some five billion people—lack access to safe, affordable surgical care.
An $85 device conceived in a sock drawer could help change that. John Langell, a surgeon who runs the University of Utah’s Center for Medical Innovation, had the idea when he was called in for an emergency late one night and used his iPhone flashlight to look for clothes without waking his wife. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is as bright as a laproscope,’ ” he recalls.
Dr. Langell passed the thought on to students in his bio-innovation class who were looking for a project: Why not build a low-cost laparoscope using cellphone parts and bring minimally invasive surgery to regions of the world that can’t afford it?
A laparoscope is a thin tube with a tiny camera on the end that allows doctors to perform surgery inside a patient’s belly by means of a few small holes rather than a large incision. Surgeons can see a magnified image of the abdominal cavity and watch what they are doing on an external video screen. Such tools typically cost more than $20,000. And additional equipment —including an image-processing tower and a highdefinition video screen—requires a capital investment of as much as $700,000. Most systems are sold with an annual service contract that adds thousands of dollars more.
The alternative that Dr. Langell’s team devised—the Xenoscope—costs about $85 to produce. There’s no need for a large image-processing tower or video screen. Surgeons can watch the video feed on an ordinary laptop— even a smartphone—which can also provide all the power the laparoscope needs for up to eight hours. That will allow doctors to perform minimally invasive surgery virtually anywhere—even without a hospital or reliable electricity.