Pretty soon your family physician will have a new tool in their arsenal to help diagnose what ails you. If you’re a Star Trek fan, you will remember the handheld tricorder device that the doctors on the Enterprise used to diagnose their crew. This tool isn’t that cool, but it is pretty darn close. Engineers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have developed a 3d medical imaging device, that looks like a handheld scanner, that will give general physicians a much better view of parts of the body they normally check. This new device will be presented at the Optical Society of America’s (OSA) annual meeting, Frontiers in Optics, coming up this October 14th.
Stephen Boppart, UIUC professor, will be the main presenter at Frontier in Optics. According to an OSA press release, Boppart says, “To monitor chronic conditions such as ear infections, primary care physicians currently rely on instruments that are essentially magnifying glasses…The new handheld imaging device would give doctors a way to quantitatively monitor these conditions, and possibly make more efficient and accurate referrals to specialists”
The beauty of this instrument is that it gives a much more detailed view of what is going on in areas such as the eyes or the ears. In the picture above, you can see an image derived from the 3D scanner which shows the thickness and health of the retina of the eye. This is a view that would be impossible to ascertain with standard magnifying equipment. To achieve this result, the device uses optical coherence tomography (OCT), which is sort of like an ultrasound except it uses near infrared light waves instead of sound to image the subject. In the image below, you can see an example of how the scanner was able to not only see components of the ear, but could literally see bacterial colonies inside of it.
Researchers hope to further develop this technology into something smaller and more portable with the help of grants from the National Institutes of health. For more information, visit the Optical Society of America’s website at http://www.osa.org/en-us/home/.