ARCHIVED - Skin health check goes high tech

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October 07, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario

Normally, it takes doctors up to three days to determine whether tissue is dying, but the NRC technology can help them make that call instantly to re-supply the tissue with blood and oxygen as quickly as possible.

Medical imaging technology developed at NRC can help doctors immediately assess the health of injured or transplanted tissue – by providing a rapid snapshot of its blood and oxygen levels. Calgary-based Kent Imaging, which has licensed the technology, is developing a handheld version, opening the door for widespread clinical use.

"Our technology is geared for areas of medicine where doctors do visual assessments – such as treatment of wounds, burns, skin lesions or skin transplants," says Dr. Michael Sowa, spectroscopy group leader at the NRC Institute for Biodiagnostics in Winnipeg. "The technology's premise is that for tissue to survive, it needs blood and oxygen. If those ingredients are missing, the tissue will not survive a transplant or trauma."

Medical imaging technology developed at NRC (shown above) can help doctors immediately assess the tissue health of their patients.
Medical imaging technology developed at NRC (shown above) can help doctors immediately assess the tissue health of their patients.

Normally, it takes doctors up to three days to determine whether tissue is dying, but the NRC technology can help them make that call instantly to re-supply the tissue with blood and oxygen as quickly as possible. "The NRC technology is very easy to use," says Dr. Karen Cross, a plastic surgery resident at the Ross Tilley Burn Centre of Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. "It takes one minute to collect information directly from a patient's wound."

So far, the NRC technology has been tested by Sunnybrook Hospital for five years. There, Dr. Cross and other clinical researchers have shown that a prototype imaging device can accurately and rapidly distinguish between first-and third-degree burns, and is also "patient-and hospital-friendly."

The NRC team is now starting a clinical study at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg to look at the technology's effectiveness in helping surgeons assess the health of reconstructed breast tissue after a mastectomy. In this procedure, surgeons transplant a tissue flap from the patient's abdominal area. "The idea is to use an imaging device right in the operation room to ensure the flap tissue will survive after the surgeons suture it in place," says Dr. Sowa.

Meanwhile, Kent Imaging is developing a smaller, faster, more ergonomic and affordable version of the NRC imaging technology for use in operating rooms, recovery wards and other clinical settings. "We believe we can do this within a handheld camera system that's slightly smaller than an 8.5 x 11 inch page," says Donald Chapman, the firm's chief executive officer. "It would include an LCD panel on the back to give physicians a large-scale picture of what they're looking at."

In addition to burn and transplant assessments, the technology has other potential roles such as assessing vascular diseases, ophthalmologic and other conditions, says Chapman. "For example, one problem faced by people in the late stages of diabetes is getting adequate circulation in their lower extremities. This technology has the potential to actually monitor the effects of drugs on circulation."

"It could also be used for any kind of plastic surgery and for monitoring wounds," he adds. "Or, you could check patients for circulation problems that could ulcerate and become bed sores."

"The best part is, the technology is completely non-invasive," Chapman stresses. "It takes a picture. There's no need for fluid injections, dyes, fluorescence or anything else."

The NRC technology consists of an infrared light source and a highly sensitive camera that records reflected light. It measures specific wavelengths – most of them invisible with the naked eye – and through a series of complex mathematical calculations, determines whether injured or transplanted tissue has an adequate blood supply and if the blood is carrying enough oxygen.

Kent Imaging hopes to start commercializing this technology in 2008.


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National Research Council of Canada
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