Intensive care patients who are on breathing support could be helped by a new tool to enable doctors to see inside their lungs to check for and monitor infections, inflammation and scarring.
Potentially fatal lung complications are common among patients on ventilation in intensive care units (ICU).
Over the next five years a team of scientists, led by the University of Edinburgh, will use advanced fibre optic technology, new chemistries, microelectronics and computer intelligence to create a microscopic probe that can be passed into patients' lungs and blood vessels.
The probe will be able to detect and monitor up to 20 key indicators of disease.
Researchers will also look at using the probe to help critically ill premature babies in the hope that it could replace the need for regular blood tests to measure oxygen, acid and glucose levels.
Along with measuring things such as oxygen, acidity and glucose in the patient's blood and lungs, the device will deliver tiny amounts of tracer compounds that will highlight specific bacteria and viruses and other harmful substances that could damage the lung.
The signals from these compounds will be transmitted to a computer to be converted into real-time, easily understood disease readouts for doctors.
Experts say that having such information quickly at the bedside will revolutionise respiratory medicine through dramatically improving the ability to accurately diagnose, monitor and treat lung disease.
It is hoped that the probe will be used in the future in acute urinary, gastrointestinal and reproductive tract problems.
Professor Mark Bradley, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Chemistry who leads the project said: "Our Fibre-based Optical Sensing and Imaging Platform (FOSIP) will give doctors the ability to rapidly diagnosis patients and inform them about the best drugs for patients. It will monitor a patient's condition in real time - without the need for cumbersome equipment or ionizing radiation. "
The project involves physicists, chemists, engineers, computer experts and clinicians from the Universities of Edinburgh and Bath and Heriot-Watt University. It is one of three UK projects to receive funding to develop healthcare technologies from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
The Edinburgh-led team has been awarded £11.2 million by the EPSRC along with support from the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.
The work will take place within the University of Edinburgh's Queen's Medical Research Institute on the Royal Infirmary hospital site.