Although infrared technology has been used in the medical sector since the 1950s in imaging, it is being put to work in quite a few innovative devices. Last week, alcohol testing firm TruTouch Technologies’ noninvasive device using near-infrared light to detect alcohol in the skin with the touch of a finger raised $4.3 million. It sees future applications of the device for medical diagnostics.
Here are five, surprisingly varied applications for infrared technology in medicine from combating lung cancer to a laparoscopic surgical tool to reduce surgical errors.
- Identifying blood vessels in laparoscopic surgery: One of the best things about laparoscopic surgery is that it is minimally invasive surgery with small incisions. But one major challenge that comes with it is it can be hard to identify blood vessels. Chicago-based medical device startup Briteseed integrates near-infrared spectroscopy sensors into the tips of surgical cutting tools to help surgeons avoid cutting blood vessels accidentally. The sensors on the SafeSnips device detect the presence and diameter of blood vessels in laparoscopic surgery alerting the surgeon to their presence and locations. The device could reduce healthcare costs since it could reduce the transfusions that patient would require if a blood vessel were cut, as well as the follow-up procedures to mend the damaged blood vessel. A study by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, relying on data from The Data Bank National Practitioner tracking medical malpractice settlements and out-of-court settlements from 1990 to 2010, estimated that about 4,000 surgical errors took place in that time frame, but acknowledged that the estimate was likely low since many cases are not reported.
- Blasting cancer cells: One of the biggest challenges with treating cancer is killing cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Texas-based NanoSpectra Biosciences’ AuroLase Therapy is its lead indication is for lung cancer. Nanoparticles are injected into the bloodstream with a mission to find lung cancer cells. Once they latch onto them, the cancer cells absorb the nanoparticles. An infrared light is projected onto the relevant area, the nanoparticles absorb it and convert the light into heat and zap the cancer cells.
- Detecting bed sores: Near-infrared technology is being used to reduce hospital-acquired infections, an enormous issue providers have been addressing. One group of Drexel University researchers are developing a way to identify bed sores before they actually appear on the skin. The diffuse near-infrared light is directed to the skin using lenses, so there is no contact with the patient’s skin. The device, which is being developed with funding from the Coulter Foundation, measures hemoglobin concentration and oxygenation beneath the surface of the skin to help physicians assess tissue damage.
- Diagnosing brain trauma: Philadelphia medical device company InfraScan uses near-infrared technology for its infrascanner hematoma detector to screen patients for a stroke assessmet or intercranial bleeding from a head injury in two minutes. The second generation of the device, which secured 510(k) clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month, acquires data wirelessly and can be used with a Windows mobile phone.
- Sepsis detection: A breath biomarker developed by Isomark in Madison, Wisconsin, is part of the key to its early sepsis detection. When the body has an infection, it tends to use carbon 13 in the metabolism associated with the infection. With the test, patients exhale into a bag. The sample goes into a spectrometer equipped with infrared lasers that measures the ratio between carbon 12 and carbon 13 in the carbon dioxide extracted from the breath. Sepsis is caused by the presence of bacteria or other germs in the blood, which kicks in the body’s immune response. Inflammation occurs that can cause complications with blood flow. Early detection and treatment of sepsis is critical to survival. In 2008, about $14.6 billion was spent on hospitalizations for septicemia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.