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Original Article
June 2001

High-Resolution Imaging of the Middle Ear With Optical Coherence Tomography: A Feasibility Study

Author Affiliations

From the Research Laboratory of Electronics and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge (Drs Pitris and Fujimoto); Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass (Drs Pitris and Brezinski); and Department of Orthopedics, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston (Ms Saunders and Dr Brezinski).

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2001;127(6):637-642. doi:10.1001/archotol.127.6.637

Background  Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a new medical imaging technology that generates cross-sectional images of tissue microstructure with micron-scale resolution. Optical coherence tomography is analogous to ultrasound, measuring the intensity of infrared light rather than acoustical waves.

Objective  To demonstrate the feasibility of using OCT for ultra–high-resolution imaging of the middle ear via ex vivo imaging studies of human tissue.

Design  Images of the tympanic membrane and middle ear were acquired ex vivo, through the ear canal, without perforating the tympanic membrane.

Materials  Four excised intact temporal bones and the auditory apparatus were harvested from cadavers and imaged fresh, without previous fixation.

Results  The resulting images were compared with the gross sample and verified the ability of OCT to delineate relevant structures, such as the tympanic membrane and its sublayers, and the middle ear ossicles, nerves, and tendons at higher resolutions than possible with standard clinical imaging technologies.

Conclusion  The ability of OCT to produce high-resolution images of tissue structure, without contact and in real time, as well as its ability to be integrated with endoscopes, suggests that this technology could become a useful modality for the diagnosis and management of a range of clinical middle ear abnormalities.