OSAKA--Panasonic Corp. and Osaka University have developed the world’s first vascular endoscopic catheter with an image sensor on its head that they say greatly improves blood vessel observations and could change existing therapies.

Once inserted into blood vessels, the new catheter can take color photographs of about 480,000 pixels, about 50 times the number through existing devices.

That capability enables detailed observations of arteriosclerosis, shapes of blood clots and other features inside blood vessels before and after a surgical operation.

“Our device could prompt major changes in therapies,” said Keita Okayama, a specially appointed assistant professor with Osaka University who took part in the joint development.

The device is also expected to promote development of drugs and stents, which are tubular medical devices used to widen blood vessels.

An image sensor, a lens and a fiber-optic illuminator are embedded in the head of the vascular endoscopic catheter, which measures 1.8 millimeters across and 5 mm long.

The catheter is designed for use with a main system featuring a monitor screen that displays images of blood vessel interiors.

Because existing devices can only show blood vessel sections in black-and-white images, medical practitioners have had to use their imagination to visualize the state of the interiors.

Panasonic, which has been developing cameras for medical devices for about three decades, started working jointly with a group of Osaka University researchers in 2013 for the latest product.

Taisho Biomed Instruments Co., a manufacturer of medical devices, plans to release the new vascular endoscopic catheter for sale to hospitals this year.

Panasonic has set a shipping target of about 8,000 units in fiscal 2021.