Traditional ultrasound imaging has been replaced by an alternative based on laser technology that does not need for body contact and can be utilized on patients who may not stand a probe on their body, for instance, burn patients or patients with sensitive skin as well as infants.
Safe tissue imaging has been performed by using a remote laser system focused from half a meter away. The laser technology was tested on the forearms of volunteers resulting in high-quality images, comparable to the standard ultrasound, where common tissue features such as muscle, fat, and bone down to about 5 cm below the skin were observable.
It should be noted that sound waves can go farther through the body than light, that is why the main problem is how to turn a laser beam’s light to sound waves at the surface of the skin, to image deeper in the body. 1550-nm lasers are used for tests because a laser beam wavelength is absorbed by water and safe for eye and skin with large safety margins.
The thing is that human skin consists largely of water, so researchers confirm that it should ideally absorb the wavelength of 1550-nm lasers and that it would heat up and expand in response. Then it is expected that the skin creates sound waves that spread through the body as the laser system wavelength returns to its standard state.
One pulsed laser at 1550 nm that emits sound waves and a second continuous laser system that remotely detects reflected sound waves are used for testing the idea. This second laser acts as a motion detector, it allows measuring vibrations in the skin surface. Herewith, skin surface motion, in its turn, changes in the laser beam’s frequency. Thus, the 1550-nm laser system enables to obtain data at various points and creates an image of the region.
The first tests of the developed laser system include imaging of metal components installed in gelatin (similar to water in skin), imaging of animal tissues, then experiments in humans. Ultrasound scanning of forearms helps to develop the first fully non-contact laser system for safe tissue imaging. Additionally, the 1550-nm laser system allows clearly distinguishing the fat, muscle, and tissue boundaries.
It is planned to improve the used laser technology by increasing the laser system’s performance. Moreover, the researchers plan to update the detection laser beam’s abilities as well as to miniaturize the laser system set up resulting in the manufacture of a portable imaging device that may be used in the home.
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