Looking Inside a Patient's Living Skin
A camera which can look inside the skin of a patient to check for abnormalities without resorting to a slice-based image scanner. Further, a camera which is hand held, and suitable for use in a general practitioners office to check for caners and other oddities without even having to refer patients to the hospital at all.
It sounds like a flight of fancy, but it exists.
First prototyped last year (2011), the liquid lens camera system, created by University of Rochester Professor of Optical Engineering Jannick Rolland is capable of taking high-resolution images under the skin's surface without removing the skin.
The basis of the camera's function is a process known as Optical Coherence Microscopy. In a lens made out water, the water droplet takes the place of the glass in a standard lens. As the electrical field around the water droplet changes, the droplet changes its shape and therefore changes the focus of the lens.
The water droplet changes shape near-instantly in response to the current, because it has no solid shape to limit movement. As a liquid it moves like a liquid, and the precision control makes it useful.
Over the course of just a few seconds, this liquid lens takes thousands of pictures focused at different depths below the skins surface. Combining the images creates a fully in-focus three-dimensional layered image of all of the tissue up to 1 millimetre deep in living human skin.
In addition, the camera has been tested with near infrared light, which is known to pierce the skin without a problem. The relatively high resolution of infrared relative to most clinician-level scanning tools, creates a precise, micron-scale resolution of the final image. Ultrasound quality this is not.
The prototype device is a cylinder roughly a foot long, so it is somewhat cumbersome to use. Work has been proceeding throughout 2012, on reducing the size of the apparatus, ready for clinical trials.
My hope is that, in the future, this technology could remove significant inconvenience and expense from the process of skin lesion diagnosis, Rolland says. When a patient walks into a clinic with a suspicious mole, for instance, they wouldnt have to have it necessarily surgically cut out of their skin or be forced to have a costly and time-consuming MRI done. Instead, a relatively small, portable device could take an image that will assist in the classification of the lesion right in the doctors office.