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New Optical Imager Could Be Routine Doc Tool

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Primary-care physicians might soon be wielding a handheld 3-D imaging device that provides immediate, real-time looks inside practically any area of the body.

The new device might vaguely resemble a portable ultrasound scanner, but it would employ light, not sound, to look beneath the surface of the skin. The tool, created by engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, uses optical coherence tomography (OCT). A university news release summarizes the progress of the research.

The OCT system involves near-infrared light. Near-infrared penetrates more deeply into the body than most other wavelengths. A detector reads the light that bounces back from biological structures. Computer algorithms analyze the reflected light and create a real-time picture of what it reveals.

The Illinois team plans to present its findings at the The Optical Society‘s annual meeting October 14–18 in Rochester, New York.

Stephen Boppart, MD, PhD, one of the team leaders, won a $5 million grant last year from the National Institutes of Health to develop the technology. At that time, he said:

The result of this, if successful, could really reduce our health-care costs and streamline our delivery of health care.

Dr. Boppart, who is both a physician and a biomedical engineer, was quoted in another university news release. He heads the Biophotonics Imaging Laboratory at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

As an example of the OCT scanner’s potential usefulness, Dr. Boppart pointed to diabetic patients. About 40 to 45 percent of diabetics develop retinopathy (leaky retinal blood vessels.) The OCT device, Dr. Boppart said, could allow doctors to closely monitor the eyes and initiate treatment for retinopathy in its early stages. Changes in the eye could also indicate diabetes in undiagnosed patients.

And, of course, OCT does not involve ionizing radiation. It’s hard to know what sort of medical devices will be commonplace in clinical settings a decade from now. It’s a safe bet that they’ll be small, portable, and astounding. OCT scanners seem to have a lot of potential to fit that description.

Related seminar: UCSF Radiology Review: CLINICAL HIGHLIGHTS

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