Medical Breakthroughs: Better Imaging

Thursday, December 23rd 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

From ultrasound to M-R-I's, there are numerous ways to see inside the body. Those methods can be somewhat limiting and often don't tell the whole story. A new technique may give doctors more information faster.

For most of her life, Jennifer Barton has been fascinated by the images only science could provide. Now a biomedical engineer at the University of Arizona, she's developing a machine that will provide new images to help doctors diagnose problems. "Optical coherence tomography or O-C-T is an imaging technique that uses light to give us cross sectional images of tissues without ever having to touch the tissue," said Barton.

She says it works like a radar or ultrasound, but on fine structures like blood vessels or the eye. "We can tell not only if the retina is detached, but exactly by how much," explained Barton. A cow's ligament can help explain how the O-C-T Machine works.
A red light is the aims the beam. It shows the operator where an infrared light hits.
The light reads the tissue every tenth of a second for thirty seconds and then sends reflections back to the machine. Then the reflections are displayed on a computer monitor. "It can give us more information quickly about areas of the body that could turn into trouble spots," Barton said.

Different size peaks on the computer screen identify changes in the tissue. And since O-C-T has at least ten times the resolution of ultrasound, it's ideal to detect surface cancers such as skin, oral and cervical cancers early. "We can not only tell if there's an area that's suspicious and could be the beginnings of cancer, but exactly how large that area is," Barton explained.

Barton hopes within a few years a smaller version of this machine will be used in doctors’ offices to check patients inside and out. A similar device has been approved by the Federal Drug Administration and is available for ophthalmologists. Barton says this will not replace the ultrasound device.