Handheld 3D scanner could aid primary care exams, diagnose diabetes

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 - Handheld optical scanner
Schematic and picture of a handheld OCT scanner, along with pictures of a healthy middle ear and one covered with a biofilm.
Source: Nguyen et al, Biomedical Optics Express, 1:1104, 2010, Nguyen et al, Proc. Natl. Acad, Sci. 109.9529, 2012

Engineers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have created a handheld scanner for primary care physicians designed to aid ear and eye exams. The system also could potentially help diagnose diabetes.

The device uses optical coherence tomography (OCT), which is similar to ultrasound, but uses light instead of sound to produce images. It can monitor the thickness and health of patients’ retinas, and could allow early detection of retinopathy, a condition involving leaky blood vessels in the retina. About 40 to 45 percent of diabetics develop retinopathy, which can lead to blurry vision and blindness, and in some cases changes in the eye could help diagnosis diabetes, according to Stephen Boppart, MD, PhD, physician and biomedical engineer at UIUC.

The 3D scanner has three basic components: a near-infrared light source and OCT system, a video camera to relay real-time images of surface features and scan location and a microelectromechanical-based scanner to direct the light, according to a release from the Optical Society of America (OSA). Near-infrared light penetrates deep into human tissues, and by measuring the time it takes to bounce back, algorithms can build a picture of the structure of the examined tissue.

Boppart and colleagues will present their findings at OSA’s annual meeting, Frontiers in Optics 2012, Oct. 14 – 18 in Rochester, N.Y.

The researchers are hopeful that falling production costs along with smaller, more compact designs will enable more physicians to take advantage of OCT scanners. This would allow it to become a point-of-care tool in the U.S. and, eventually, in developing countries. A $5 million National Institutes of Health Bioengineering Research Partnership grant was recently awarded to the research team to further refine the device.