Laser can spot illness before symptoms appear

Nov 12, 2007

It may not rank among the top 10 causes of death, but decompression sickness can be fatal. Instead of waiting for symptoms to appear, a University of Houston professor is developing a laser-based system that can diagnose the sickness in a matter of seconds.

Kirill Larin, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering, is using a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Navy to develop the first optical non-invasive tool to test those most likely to suffer from decompression sickness, such as scuba divers, submariners and airplane pilots. Decompression sickness affects those who experience sudden, drastic changes in the air or water pressure surrounding their bodies. It can cause anything from joint pain – known as the bends – to seizure, stroke, coma and, in the most extreme cases, death.

“Most of the time, decompression sickness isn’t addressed until the person starts showing clinical symptoms,” Larin said. “It would be better, of course, to treat the problem before the symptoms appear. That would allow individuals to take the appropriate medical actions to reduce the side effects of decompression sickness.”

Larin’s optical device can locate the presence of nitrogen gas – or microbubbles – in blood and tissues, which can restrict the flow of blood throughout the body and cause damage. Larin is developing the tool, which works much like an ultrasound machine, with Dr. Bruce Butler of the UT Health Science Center in Houston. Instead of getting readings using sound waves, however, Larin’s system uses light waves in the form of lasers that bounce back when they encounter resistance, thereby providing a high-resolution image.

The Navy could eventually use this technology on all divers or pilots returning to the surface. By shining the laser on one of these individuals, it would provide an image that would reveal the presence of any microbubbles in the blood or tissue – all in a matter of seconds. If microbubbles are found, then medical steps, such as time in a decompression chamber, could be taken before the symptoms appear.

An early version of the tool has been able to locate microbubbles as small as six micrometers, or six thousandths of a millimeter. Most microbubbles are between five and 15 micrometers, about the size of a red blood cell.

The device also could be used at the International Space Station, where individuals moving from a ship to the station have suffered from the effects of decompression sickness. With continued research, everyone from highly trained naval divers and pilots, to astronauts and seaside vacationers could benefit.

Source: University of Houston

Explore further: AbbVie shares sink after $21 bn deal for Pharmacyclics

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study shows one reason why pigeons so rarely crash

34 minutes ago

(Phys.org)—A pair of researchers with Harvard University has uncovered one of the secrets behind pigeons' impressive flight abilities. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of ...

Can we track the world's nuclear weapons?

43 minutes ago

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has unveiled an interactive infographic that tracks the number and history of nuclear weapons in the nine nuclear weapon states: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, C ...

Unified theory for skyrmion-materials

47 minutes ago

Magnetic vortex structures, so-called skyrmions, could in future store and process information very efficiently. They could also be the basis for high-frequency components. For the first time, a team of physicists ...

Egypt unearths 3000-year-old tomb in southern city

47 minutes ago

Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities says American archeologists have discovered a 3000-year-old tomb with beautifully painted walls belonging to a nobleman who guarded the temple of the ancient deity Amun.

Recommended for you

US must respond to global health outbreaks, say bioethicists

8 hours ago

Last summer, West Africa fell into the grip of a deadly outbreak of Ebola that has thus far taken the lives of more than 9,500 people. The fear swept up by the epidemic quickly jumped across the Atlantic and landed in the ...

Uganda on defensive over medical 'brain drain' uproar

Mar 03, 2015

Uganda's government on Tuesday hit back at mounting criticism of plans to 'export' over 200 health workers to the Caribbean, insisting it was only seeking to regulate an existing labour market and prevent abuses.

Seth Mnookin on vaccination and public health

Mar 02, 2015

Seth Mnookin, an assistant professor of science writing and associate director of MIT's Graduate Program in Science Writing, is the author of "The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy" ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.