A Rice University team has received a $10 million grant to develop a wearable point-of-care imaging device that will be able to aid in the diagnosis and monitoring of medical conditions that currently require a biopsy or blood test.

The project is expected to produce a technology for in vivo three-dimensional imaging of tissue. Researchers expect that the project will create on-chip illumination and sensing on point-of-care microscopes that will non-invasively aid in diagnosing or monitoring as many as 100 health conditions.

The imaging technology is intended to "point a camera to a part of the body and see live biology below the skin without making an incision or drawing blood," said Ashutosh Sabharwal, a professor at Rice and the principal investigator on the grant.

Sabharwal's team, which includes 11 co-investigators from Rice, Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, MIT and Cornell, is one of three groups to win five-year grants today from the National Science Foundation's Expeditions in Computing program, an interdisciplinary NSF effort that constitutes the agency's largest single investment in computer and information science research.

Rice University graduate students are performing tests of optical imaging techniques for non-contact, remote monitoring of vital signs and tissue perfusion.
Rice University graduate students are performing tests of optical imaging techniques for non-contact, remote monitoring of vital signs and tissue perfusion. Vivek Boominathan/Rice University

"Expeditions supports transformative research, and our goal is to create miniaturized, light-based microscopes for use in wearables, point-of-care, bedside diagnostics, ambulances, operating rooms and more," said Sabharwal, a professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Researchers know that light can travel through the body, but visible light scatters so much as it passes through soft tissue that it has not been useful for medical imaging. Sabharwal's team will attempt to unravel this scattered light puzzle with a technique called "computational scatterography." They'll use a combination of mathematical algorithms, camera design and imaging sensors to reverse engineer the path of scattered light.

Sabharwal pointed to white blood cell count tests as an example of the project's potential impact. Oncologists use WBC tests to monitor chemotherapy patients—each test requires a finger prick or blood draw and a laboratory, which means they can be performed only at hospitals and clinics. "Imagine a wearable device no larger than a watch that uses sensors to continuously measure white blood cell count and wirelessly communicate with the oncologist's office," Sabharwal said.

Sabharwal said a crucial thing to understand about the scatterography project is that it won't aid in managing just one or two health care problems.

"If we succeed, this isn't just one product," he said. "It's a platform technology that will be able to spinoff into many products that can be used in the care of nearly 100 health conditions."

Caption for photo:

Rice University graduate students are performing tests of optical imaging techniques for non-contact, remote monitoring of vital signs and tissue perfusion.

Photo credit: (Photo by Vivek Boominathan/Rice University)

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