Roger Cornwall, MD.

Roger Cornwall, MD

Rather than removing tissue to study cells under a microscope, imagine placing a microscope inside living tissue – with no more trauma than getting a flu shot. That is precisely the type of new research tool that Roger Cornwall, MD, is using at Cincinnati Children’s to launch a novel clinical study of children with cerebral palsy and brachial plexus injuries.

Cornwall is the first scientist in the world to employ a device called the Zebrascope, an improved form of microendoscope with resolution powerful enough to capture images of sarcomeres  – the key building block of muscle fibers  – without removing tissue samples.

The device, created by researchers at Stanford University, derives its name from how images of sarcomeres appear as a series of black and white stripes. The device is so tiny that its light-emitting and light-sensing fibers can fit inside a pair of needles.

“This is the first device of its kind that allows looking inside a muscle cell, in vivo, in real time,” says Cornwall, who also serves as Co-Director of the Hand and Upper Extremity Center at Cincinnati Children’s. “This will allow us to confirm findings from research in the mouse about why permanent limitations to arm movement often occur when newborns sustain brachial plexus nerve damage during difficult deliveries. This also will allow new studies of muscle function in cerebral palsy, for which no animal model has been developed.”

The device will help Cornwall conduct a clinical trial examining muscle development in children with elbow flexion contractures caused by brachial plexus or cerebral palsy. The first patient to join the study was tested with the new device in January.