The line between physical examinations and imaging may be blurring thanks to a tactile imaging sensor prototype which emulates human sensation from a hands-on exam, but also uses LED lights and a camera to quantify the data.
Developed by a team of researchers led by Chang-Hee Won, PhD, of Temple University in Philadelphia, the device could help doctors who feel a breast lump during a physical exam, and determine the probability of the lesion being malignant or benign.
The device has a flexible transparent elastomer cube at one end, which the LEDs shine light through. Information based on the reflected light is recorded by the camera and can be transferred to any computer through a Firewire cable. Won pointed out that while the device would be used to help in the early investigation of breast tumors, it’s not designed to replace mammography or other imaging modalities.
“The major target is rural areas, remote regions where women usually do not access mammography,” he told Health Imaging. “For example, if a woman goes for a checkup with her primary doctor or OB/GYN, that’s where this device could be used.”
Currently, the device can detect tumors as small as 2 mm in size and up to 3 cm deep under the skin. “It’s not the detection of the tumor that’s critical. It’s detection of the tumor plus giving the probability of malignancy,” explained Won, who added the tactile imaging sensor can provide the mechanical properties of what it feels.
Most lesions are benign, but cancerous lesions tend to be larger, firmer, irregular in shape and less mobile. Using an algorithm developed by the Control, Sensor, Network and Perception Laboratory in Temple’s College of Engineering, of which Won is the director, the mechanical properties measured by the device can reveal the probability of malignancy on a scale of one to five.
From there, the physician can decide whether to monitor the lesion or send the patient to a specialist for a more definitive diagnosis.
Won said the device could be used for the detection of diseases in any organ near the surface of the skin, but so far research has focused on breast tumors. The researchers have been working on the project for about five years, gathering data from canine tumors and a small number of human patients. Won said the device is now ready for further clinical testing.