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Advancing Smart Optical Imaging and Sensing for Health

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Breakthrough medical imaging technologies for non-intrusive diagnosis

Modern health systems are set up to reduce hospitalisation through less invasive disease detection, diagnosis and treatment. The EU project ASTONISH developed imaging devices to detect skin cancer and vascular and neurological diseases, among others.

Digital Economy icon Digital Economy
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As Europeans live longer, health authorities face the challenge of providing quality care for them and of better treatment of diseases. ASTONISH (Advancing Smart Optical Imaging and Sensing for Health) developed new state-of-the-art imaging tools to diagnose and treat diseases from skin cancer to neurological diseases in a minimally invasive way, with applications aimed at cutting hospital stays and improving quality of life. The consortium of 24 partners from the Belgium, Czechia, Spain, Finland, Italy, and the Netherlands developed six demonstrators for different medical applications, testing them on patients and healthy volunteers. Some of the applications are very close to commercialisation. “It is impressive to see so many partners already working on tangible activities to promote and release their innovative products,” says project manager Robert Hofsink, who works for the Philips Image-Guided Therapy business in the Netherlands. The consortium of companies, backed by universities and research and technology organisations developed near-infrared and hyperspectral imaging devices to characterise tissues, to more easily detect tumours and skin cancers. Hyperspectral imaging collects and processes information from across the electromagnetic spectrum to obtain the spectrum for each pixel in the image of a scene, with the purpose of finding objects or identifying materials. Perhaps one of the most remarkable moments for the developers came halfway through the project when they managed to integrate their optical sensors in a system to synchronously measure electroencephalogram (EEG) and Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) signals, two ways to measure activity in the brain. “This breakthrough allows for the non-invasive measurement of both electrical and haemodynamic brain activity and may help in the assessment of neurological diseases such as stroke and dementia,” says Antonio Chiarelli, neuroimaging researcher at the University of Chieti, Italy.

Multiple applications

As a result, Icare, which is part of Finnish technology corporation Revenio, is now looking to commercialise a hyperspectral camera for skin cancer detection. The results of the project are also now being used by Quest Medical Imaging, a subsidiary of Quest Photonic Devices in the Netherlands, to expand the functionalities of its existing image-guided surgery system for tumour visualisation and the imaging of the circulatory or lymphatic systems. Spanish IT service management company (Ibermática) developed a clinical decision support system for the diagnosis and prognosis of skin cancer in collaboration with their Spanish partners, the University of the Basque Country, research and technology organisation Tecnalia and bio software company NorayBio. Optical imaging can also be used for imaging during spinal surgery. Hofsink’s company Philips developed an augmented reality surgical navigation system. The system integrates X-ray and optical imaging, offering an intuitive user interface to guide surgeons during spinal operations. “The product fuses live optical video with pre-operative 3D X-ray data sets, allowing the surgeon to improve procedure planning, surgical tool navigation and implant accuracy, as well as reduce procedure times,” says Hofsink. In a clinical study, an orthopaedic spinal surgeon placed 253 pedicle screws on 20 consenting patients, with an accuracy rate of 94 %. The French-Italian semiconductor manufacturer STMicroelectronics investigated the application of highly sensitive imaging components. The demonstrators obtained have huge potential for the development of wellbeing and Internet of Things devices.


ASTONISH, skin cancer, vascular, neurological diseases, near-infrared and hyperspectral imaging, optical imaging, non-intrusive diagnosis, surgical navigation

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