3-D Medical Scanner Gives Primary Care Physicians the Surgical Edge

While advanced imaging techniques have allowed operating room surgeons and specialists to see inside the human body, those in the trenches and on the front lines (primary care physicians) haven't always been able to use the same technology...until now. Engineers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have developed a new imaging tool for primary car physicians: a handheld scanner that allows them to image those sites they most commonly examine and those that house numerous bacterial colonies (like the middle ear). The device utilizes optical coherence tomography (OCT), a visual technology similar to ultrasound imagine, but uses light instead of sound to produce the images. The team will be presenting their research at the Optical Society's (OSA) Annual Meeting, Frontiers in Optics (FiO) 2012 happening October 14-18 in Rochester New York.

To keep tabs on chronic conditions like ear infections, primary care physicians have traditionally relied on instruments that are basic magnifying glasses, says UIUC physician and biomedical engineer Stephen Boppart, who will present the team's findings at FiO. The new device gives physicians a way to quantitatively monitor these conditions, and make more efficient and accurate referrals to specialists.

3-D Medical ScannerThe scanners work through three basic components: a near-infrared light source and OCT system, a video camera to relay real-time images of surface features and scan locations and a microelectromechanical (MEMS)-based scanner to direct the light. Near-infrared wavelengths of light penetrate deeper into human tissues than other wavelengths more readily absorbed by the body. By measuring the time taken for the light to bounce back from tissue microstructure, computer algorithms can build a picture of the structure of tissue that's being examined.

Those patients with diabetes may particularly benefit from the device. Roughly 40-45 percent of diabetics develop leaky blood vessels in their retina which results in blurry vision and eventual blindness. The handheld OCT device allows doctors to monitor the retina's health, and allows them to catch retinopathy in its earlier stages. In some cases, changes in the eye could help doctors diagnose diabetes, Boppart says.

Boppart and his team hope that falling production costs combined with smaller, more sleek designs will enable physicians to take advantage of the scanners and that they'll become a common point-of-care device. Eventually, they'd like to see the imagers at work in developing countries as well as rural areas. He and an international team of collaborators recently received a $5 million National Institutes of Health Bioengineering Research Partnership grant to further refine the device.

For more information on the device, including pictures and diagrams, visit:http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-10/osoa-3ms100212.php