A new portable imaging tool, which held over the patient's skin, allows quick and unobtrusive scanning of tissues. The device bears an unmistakable resemblances to the palm sized medical scanners known as "tricorders" in the Star Trek science-fiction universe. And like many other Star Trek technologies that seemed far out at the time like voice recognition software and positron beams, the device has been realized in the real world.
The new, wallet-sized scanner, developed by researchers at Georgia Tech, uses something called a narrowband filter mosaic. The mosaic includes photosensitive pixel sensors that observe different wavelengths, allowing for multispectral imaging. The filter mosaic improves the use and functionality of medical scanning techniques, allowing for subsurface characterization.
Normally cuts, bruises, and erythema are hard to diagnose in severity, particularly for untrained personnel. Lighting and skin color can skew results even for the trained eye. The new device will allow even untrained personnel to assess the severity of an injury.
Other applications of the filtering technology used in the scanner would be military imaging/target classing, manufacturing quality inspections, food contamination examinations, remote sensing for mining, and atmospheric monitoring. In the medical field they hold promise for diagnosing early stage cancers and tumors.
The new technology was pioneered by the Georgia Tech’s Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA). The tech will first be put to use in diagnosing and preventing pressure ulcers. Victims of paralysis or other conditions that render the body immobile often suffer from these severe secondary afflictions. Early pressure ulcers begin with erythema (broke capillaries) which the scanner detects. Medicare spending on pressure ulcer treatment is conservatively estimated to account for $1.34B USD annually.
The scanner could also be used to detect bruise early to help catch abuse cases.
The filter mosaic can also be laminated with digital camera sensor chips. The CATEA researchers have filed for a patent and are exploring commercialization options.
With the low cost involved, the field of multispectral imaging may finally start to see commercial interest soon. Says Dr. Stephen Sprigle, director of CATEA and professor of industrial design and human physiology, "Although multispectral imaging has matured into a technology with applications in many fields, clinicians and practitioners in these fields have generally stayed away from it due to extremely high costs and lack of portability. Now, the possibilities are plentiful."
Perhaps before long you might see one of these tricorder-like devices in a medical office you visit.