A team of engineers at the University of California at Berkeley has developed a technique for transmitting medical images via cellphones. This potentially could bring medical imaging to the 'three-quarters of the world's population which has no access to ultrasounds, X-rays, magnetic resonance images, and other medical imaging technology.' The lead researcher said that this new system would make imaging technology inexpensive and accessible in non-industrialized countries. As medical images are usually pretty large, I was a little bit skeptical when I first read the UC Berkeley news release. But as the researchers have found a way to reduce these images to a mere kilobytes, it can actually be feasible. But read more about this brilliant idea...
You can see above the system configuration used for "the breast cancer tumors patient self-test screening. Outlined arrows indicate optional reporting of results to the patient." (Credit: UC Berkeley, link to a larger version)
And you can see above how this technique could be used for breast cancer detection. On the left, you can see "the DAD [data acquisition device] of the system with two types of gel representing a breast cancer tumor surrounded by normal breast tissue." The right part shows "econstructed result as it was displayed on the screen of a commercial cellular phone. Warm colors represent higher conductivity regions that are typical of breast cancer lesions." (Credit: UC Berkeley, link to a larger version)
This research has been led by Boris Rubinsky, professor of bioengineering and mechanical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, who also works at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. By the way, this university also has issued its own news release about this imaging technique. Rubinsky worked with PhD student Yair Granot and post-doctoral researcher Antoni Ivorra.
Before going further, let's first look at how medical imaging is done today. "Most medical imaging devices, said Rubinsky, consist of three essential components: the data acquisition hardware that is connected to the patient, the image processing software and a monitor to display the image. When these components are combined into one unit, machine parts often become redundant, substantially increasing the cost of the device, he said."
This leads him to break this model. "Rubinsky and his team came up with the novel idea of physically separating these components so that the most complicated element -- the processing software used to reconstruct the raw data into a meaningful image -- can reside at an offsite central location, presumably in a large center where resources are available for its operation and maintenance. This central location would be used to service multiple remote sites where far simpler machines collect the raw data from the patients."
And this where the cellphone comes in. "The phone, hooked up to the data acquisition device, would transmit the raw data to the central server where the information would be used to create an image. The server would then relay the image back to the cell phone, where it can be viewed on the cell phone's screen. 'This design significantly lowers the cost of medical imaging because the apparatus at the patient site is greatly simplified, and there is no need for personnel highly trained in imaging processing,' said Ivorra."
This new medical imaging technique has been published on April 30, 2008 in the open access journal Public Library of Science ONE (PLoS ONE) under the title "A New Concept for Medical Imaging Centered on Cellular Phone Technology." Here is a link to this article, from which the above images have been picked.
Please read it to discover the potential limitations, such as cellphone compatibility. Here is the final summary. "This study demonstrates the feasibility of using a cellular phone as an integrated part of a medical imaging system in which a robust and independent DAD is connected to the imaging processing site through the cell phone. We believe that this concept has the potential for decreasing the complexity of operating the imaging system at the patient site and make state of the art diagnostic imaging as well as interventional imaging available to people and places that do not have adequate medical imaging now."
Finally, here is a link to a short video (2 minutes and 30 seconds), in which Rubinsky tells how his team conceived and developed "a new device that uses cellphones to make medical imaging much cheaper and more accessible to the poor." (Video produced by Roxanne Makasdjian, UC Berkeley Media Relations).
Sources: University of California at Berkeley news release, April 29, 2008; and various websites
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