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Light touch to improve rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis

News Agencies | Updated on: 9 July 2019, 17:19 IST

A new way of detecting rheumatoid arthritis using infrared light could offer an objective way of diagnosing the disease and monitoring its treatment effectiveness, according to a study by the University of Birmingham.

The rapid, non-invasive technique could help clinicians diagnose the disease at an early stage and assess how effectively the selected treatment is controlling the progression of the disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease causing the body's immune system to attack the lining of joints leading to painful inflammation and swelling.

It affects around 500,000 people in the UK and the current diagnosis relies on a combination of physical examinations by a consultant rheumatologist, blood tests, and scanning by x-ray or ultrasound.

Analysing these can be time-consuming, but also subjective, requiring highly-trained staff.

The new technique, developed by a team in the University of Birmingham's School of Computer Science in partnership with Health Technologies Institute and Rheumatologists in the NIHR Birmingham Biomedical Research Centre, combines 3D digital imaging with infrared spectroscopy to create a 3D image of blood content inside a patients' hand that can be used to produce an objective, quantifiable assessment.

As part of the treatment process, the patient places a hand inside the scanner, which first creates a 3D model of the hand, measuring its size and contours.

In the next step, an infrared beam is directed through each finger in turn and the amount of light coming out through the finger is measured. Because oxygenated and deoxygenated blood absorb light differently, its possible to use the infrared imaging to calculate warning signs of RA such as hypoxia lowered levels of blood oxygen and increased levels of blood content, an indication of inflammation, the study said.

We know that diagnosing patients with RA early is really important, because early treatment leads to better long-term outcomes, explains Professor Hamid Dehghani, who led the study.

The system we have developed offers a low-cost, objective way of detecting the disease and potentially grading how advanced it is. We hope, in time it will enable clinicians to diagnose the disease earlier and offer personalised treatment plans for patients, he said.


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First published: 9 July 2019, 17:19 IST