When someone has a problematic skin condition, the affected skin is typically either stiffer or softer than normal. A new sensor has been shown to detect such differences, potentially allowing doctors to diagnose problems more quickly and easily.
The electromechanical device was designed via a collaboration between scientists at City University of Hong Kong and Northwestern University in Illinois. It’s actually adapted from a tool that was previously developed at the latter institution, for providing haptic feedback to users of virtual reality systems.
Measuring just 2.5 mm thick by about 2 sq cm (0.3 sq in) in contact area, the hard-wired sensor is simply placed on a person’s skin, in a location where a problem is suspected. An alternating electrical current is then applied through coils on the device, causing an integrated magnet to rapidly vibrate.
As that magnet vibrates, it sends pressure waves up to 8 mm down into the skin. That skin rapidly deforms in response to those waves, although the extent to which it does so is determined by its tensile stiffness. A strain-sensing sheet on the underside of the sensor measures those skin deformations, relaying them to a linked computer that translates the data into a skin stiffness value. That value can then be checked against those associated with specific skin disorders.
And although there already are diagnostic systems that measure the tensile stiffness of the skin, they’re typically large devices that have to be operated by trained technicians – plus they can only “read” the very outermost layer of the skin. By contrast, it is hoped that if commercialized, the inexpensive new sensor could be utilized by doctors in their offices, or even by people monitoring their skin health in their own homes.
The device has already been the subject of clinical studies, in which it was used on both the hair-bearing and hairless skin of patients with skin problems. Among other things, it was found to reliably detect psoriasis after just one minute of use. It is believed that once the technology is developed further, it should be equally capable of detecting other conditions.
“The data produced can assist in diagnosis, treatment tracking and disease monitoring particularly for skin associated disorders such as skin cancer, as well as in aspects of aesthetic dermatology and of the recovery from surface wounds,” says City University of Hong Kong’s Dr. Yu Xinge.
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.
Source: City University of Hong Kong