endoscopic "rod lens." Introduced in 1960, it combined air with long glass pieces ground, on their ends, into optical surfaces. First applied in 1967 to a cystoscope by Karl Storz, it produced brighter, sharper and larger images than previous prisms, mirrors and lenses. By the 1980s, scientists showed that fibers and lenses could be married into fiber-optic coaxial bundles, with one package of whisker-thin strands carrying light and another returning images. These slender parcels allowed greater flexibility in traversing the urinary tract, turning corners without distorting images.
Today, endoscopy is so refined that urologists probe with flexible cystoscopes advanced by pencil-lead-sized tips that can be maneuvered. Spear-like sheaths or "trocars" provide the working channel through which urologists and other surgeons can pump carbon dioxide or place catheters and instruments when doing laparoscopic—or buttonhole—surgery. The spin-off? Less guesswork and more on-the-mark decision-making along with fewer side effects and quicker recoveries. As superior as they've become, however, these cystoscopes are bound to be upstaged by next generation models that transmit brighter pictures with fewer, stronger optical fibers.