New Changes in Diagnosing Diseases

Healthcare Technology Development.

Technology in all walks of life is advancing rapidly, as advancement in the medical field is no exception. Medical devices on the horizon promise to change the way we are diagnosing diseases, as well as monitor patient reactions and conditions in a remarkably non-invasive way.

While current technology can identify disease, patients are often not diagnosed until the disease has progressed to a dangerous situation; but a simple device developed by Dr. Stephen Boppart (University of Illinois) seems to be leading the way to a new way to diagnose illness in its very early stages, as well as be utilized in other creative ways. Boppart’s hand-held device uses optical light imagery to uncover very early stages of disease; Boppart himself calls the procedure an “optical biopsy”, further explaining it as scanning the patient with a new type of microscope.

Boppart, who is at the helm of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology in Urbana, has made optical imagery the focus of his career. Boppart has a medical degree from Harvard, a doctorate in medical and electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and says that early on, he became fascinated with optical imaging techniques that allowed doctors to see beyond delicate surfaces. Unlike MRIs, which rely on magnetics and sound wave ultrasounds, this technique manipulates light waves to create high-resolution images. The goal, says Boppart, is to have new access and information to molecules that reside under the skin, even seeing in real time how the body’s cells and molecules are reacting to a new medication as it is being taken.

At the new GlaxoSmithKline Center for Optical Molecular Imaging, a collaboration with British pharmaceutical firm, Boppart and his research team will initially be concentrating on skin disorders. For GSK, the partnership will help to determine the effectiveness of new drugs and medicines far more quickly than traditional drug trials. Biomedical engineers and other professionals are hailing the private-public aspect of the partnership as potentially huge for everyone involved, and are applauding the appreciation of each partner’s contributions.

Boppart, 47, credits his innovative mind and love of research to his father, an agricultural engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They worked on engines together when Boppart was growing up, and Boppart says “He instilled in me the spirit of innovation and curiosity and fixing things on a limited budget”. Doing his part to pass on the legacy, Boppart’s spirit inspires his students and his own young children. “It’s the people who are innovative in their spare time who are the ones that will get things to work,” he says. “One student fixes his own car and another builds catapults. They are solving technical problems on their own time. That, to me, is that spirit of innovation they have to nurture.”

The work of Stephen Boppart looks to ensure the early discovery of life threatening disease, as well as a more rapid assessment of how effective treatments will be. These innovations continue to further optimism that these illnesses will be conquered far more effectively in the near future.