A device that shows the difference between healthy fingers and arthritic fingers has been developed that combines ultrasound and photoacoustics medical imaging techniques. Combining these techniques allows specialists to create images of superficial areas of the body that can offer doctors a wealth of useful information. The idea behind the device was to eventually use it to diagnose arthritis and determine the severity of burns, skin cancer, and hardening of the arteries.
The device is able to clearly show the difference between arthritic and healthy joints. The signal measured in arthritic fingers was four to ten times stronger than in healthy fingers, indicating that the device works at least as well as ultrasound technology.
In tests, the device was successfully used to diagnose inflamed joints. The device may also be used in the future to determine the degree of inflammation. Diagnoses become more objective because patients no longer have to depend solely on human observation.
Ultrasound technology and photo-acoustics are two medical imaging techniques that complement each other well. Where ultrasound offers images of structures, photoacoustics generates images that contain more functional information, such as where blood is located. In photoacoustics, short laser pulses are emitted into a patient's body. When these laser pulses hit a blood vessel, for example, they cause a small increase in pressure that moves through the body like a sound wave, and can be measured on the skin. In ultrasound imaging, the sound is transmitted into the body, where it bounces off of various tissues in a variety of ways, and produces waves that can also be detected on the skin.