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Handheld scanner to detect disease

A new technology combining photoacoustics with ultrasounds has enabled the University of Twente to differentiate between arthritic and healthy fingers, diagnose liber fibrosis and even measure blood velocity. Soon, this device could also be tested for mapping the likes of skin cancer, burns or hardening of the arteries.

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Integration of pulsating diode lasers in the ultrasound probe. This is what it took for University of Twente’s Phd candidate Pim van den Berg to be able to bring both ultrasound and photoacoustics technology to a single, handheld device capable of seeing beneath patients’ skin. Concretely, once put on a patient’s skin, the device emits short laser pulses which, as they hit blood vessels or other tissues, generate light. This light in turns generates heat and a small increase in pressure - resulting in a sound wave that can be picked up by the device. This is the photoacoustics part. Ultrasound imaging, on the other hand, transmits sound into the body. The sound bounces off as it meets obstacles, producing waves that can also be detected on the patient’s skin. Three use cases Whilst the device cannot currently go deeper than 15 millimetres, a new European project already intends to reach greater depths. First medical applications are expected ‘in the short term,’ the university states. Pim van den Berg’s research - partly funded under the FULLPHASE project - focused on three use cases: arthritis detection, liver fibrosis in laboratory animals, and blood velocity measurement. In the first series of experiments, van den Berg could demonstrate that his device was able to diagnose inflammation of the joints in rheumatoid arthritis patients. ‘We have looked at fingers with and without inflammation using this device,’ he explains. ‘The difference is clear. This method shows the many extra blood vessels that form in the area of an inflammation.’ Whilst additional research is needed to identify the degree of inflammation intead of simply detecting its presence or absence, this is already a great achievement for doctors who currently have to rely on their own perception in order to diagnose inflammation. Another achievement was the detection of liver fibrosis in laboratory animals. As researchers currently use mice to find new drugs for this condition, the use of the FULLPHASE device could allow disease progress tracking and evaluation of drug effectiveness for longer periods of time, thereby reducing the number of mice used in such studies. Last but not least, the technology was used to measure blood flow. In cooperation with University College London, van den Berg used the device to define the flow rate of blood and use it to quantify the level of inflammation. ‘The test has been very successful,’ he said. ‘We would like to find out how fast the blood flows, how many blood vessels there are near the site of the inflammation and the levels of oxygen and nutrients. This information will tell us more about the inflammation.’ The components of blood and the relationship between them can be measured using this system. ‘We were able to take excellent measurements in our laboratory environment. The next step is reviewing whether the device is able to do the same measurements on the human body,’ Pim van den Berg concludes. For more information, please see: project page



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