Science Fiction Saving Lives

If you were ever an avid fan of Star Trek, you may find the following invention very familiar. A Georgia Tech research team has developed a portable imaging palm gadget capable of quick and unobtrusive scanning of subsurface tissues. The wallet-sized device could significantly lower the costs and increase the reliability and speed of injury diagnosis and forensic imaging.
Enlarged diagram of filter mosaic (Credit: Georgia Tech) 
Enlarged diagram of filter mosaic
(Credit: Georgia Tech)

Researchers at Georgia Tech’s Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA) have developed a palm sized device, which resembles the Star Trek “Tricoder”. The device is capable of creating an image and characterizing sub skin tissues. The device was developed in the framework of a project aimed at designing a portable bruise and erythema (redness of the skin caused by capillary congestion) detection technology. By simply holding the device above the patient’s skin, a subsurface image of the tissue is produced.   

To create the image, the device uses a narrowband filter mosaic – a mosaic of tiny color filters placed over the pixel sensors of an image sensor to capture color information. The photosensitive pixel sensors observe different wavelengths (including non visible light, such as infrared), enabling characterization of the subsurface tissue. Images taken at different light wavelengths are combined to make composite images, with each wavelength displayed by a different color in the final image.  Although this technique, named “multispectral imaging”, is common in many fields, including in the creation of satellite images of Earth, it is the first time this technology is being used in the medical field.

 The new mosaic narrowband filter functions at four or more wavelengths (Credit: Georgia Tech)
The new mosaic narrowband filter functions
at four or more wavelengths
from visual to infrared with 20nm
bandwidth in a single exposure.
The wallet-size mulitspectral imaging
system could offer significant cost savings,
increased reliability and instantan
(Credit: Georgia Tech)

Assessing the severity of a bruise or cut is a complicated task even for well trained medical staff, as the assessment is highly dependant on the patient’s skin pigmentation and the available lighting. Thus, these assessments are often unreliable.  However, it is very important to diagnose bruises and cuts quickly and correctly, especially in patients with impaired mobility and sensation. Untreated erythemas often develop into pressure ulcers and become life threatening. Therefore, early prevention and diagnosis of pressure ulcers will improve the quality of life of immobile patients and can save millions of dollars currently spent on treatment of these phenomena. The device could also allow early intervention and proof in cases of suspected physical abuse.

With further development, this filter, developed by the Georgia Tech team, could have a wide variety of applications. The potential applications include instantaneous classification of military targets, inspecting product quality in manufacturing, detecting food contamination, performing remote sensing in mines, monitoring atmospheric composition in environmental engineering, and diagnosing tumors at an early stage. 

Other imaging technology developments covered by TFOT include the VeinViewer, developed by Luminetx, which allows medical professionals a quick and convenient look at a patient’s vasculature, the world’s strongest MRI, and the first low-intensity MRI scan of a human brain.

The Georgia Tech press release on the new “Tricoder” can be found here.