Hebrew U. concept uses cellphones to send x-rays

New technology expected to be a boon not only for patients in developed counties but especially for those in the Third World.

rubinsky 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
rubinsky 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sophisticated medical images such as MRI and ultrasound scans and x-rays can be sent via cellular phones using a process developed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The new technology is expected to be a boon not only for patients in developed counties, including rural areas with reduced access to medical services, but especially for those in the Third World. The technique, which may soon be picked up by commercial interests, is described in the latest online issue of the journal Public Library of Science ONE (PLoS ONE). Prof. Boris Rubinsky, head of Hebrew University's research center in bioengineering in the service of humanity and society at the Benin School of Computer Science and Engineering, has demonstrated the feasibility of his new concept, which can replace current systems based on conventional, stand-alone medical imaging devices. Rubinsky's new medical imaging system consists of two independent components connected through cellular phone technology, with a relatively simple data collection device on-site connected via cell phone to an off-site computer that processes the data and produces an image. The concept could be developed with various medical imaging modalities. Imaging is considered one of the most important achievements in modern medicine, with about one-fifth of all diseases diagnosed and treated with such devices, said Rubinsky, but the technology is beyond the means of millions of the poorest people around the world. "Our system would make imaging technology inexpensive and accessible for these underserved populations," he said. Rubinsky, who is also a professor of bioengineering and mechanical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, worked on the project with Yair Granot and Antoni Ivorra of the Biophysics Graduate Group of the California institution. Their invention is jointly patented and owned by Yissum, HU's technology transfer company, and by the University of California. They will jointly act to commercialize the technology. According to the World Health Organization, about three-quarters of the world's population has no access to ultrasounds, X-rays, magnetic resonance images and other medical imaging technology used for a wide range of applications - from detecting tumors and confirming signs of active tuberculosis infections to monitoring the health of developing fetuses. Conventional medical imaging systems used today - self-contained units combining data acquisition hardware with software processing hardware and imaging display - are expensive and demand sensitive handling and maintenance and extensive training for users. Only those treatment centers with the required financial and manpower resources are able to purchase and use them. Even when developing countries do have such equipment, they often fall into disuse because they are too sophisticated to use or maintain, Rubinsky said. Under the new technology developed by Rubinsky, a simple and independent data acquisition device (DAD) at a remote patient site could be connected via cellular phone technology with an advanced image reconstruction and hardware control multiserver unit at a central site, which can be anywhere in the world. The cellular phone technology transmits unprocessed, raw data from the patient site DAD to the cutting-edge central facility that has the sophisticated software and hardware required for image reconstruction. This data is then returned from the central facility to the cellular phone at the DAD site in the form of an image and displayed on its screen. "The DAD can be made with off-the-shelf parts that somebody with basic technical training can operate," Rubinsky noted. The fact that the image itself is produced in a centralized location and not on the measurement device has the potential to make technological advances in medical imaging processing continuously available to remote areas of the world, which despite their lack of sophisticated equipment in general often do have cell phone communication. In fact, about three-fifths of all cell phones currently in use in the world are in developing countries. Rubinsky stresses the major economic benefits of this new method: By simplifying the apparatus at the patient site, it reduces the cost of medical imaging devices in general and also eliminates the need for advanced imaging training of the personnel at the patient site. The team chose electrical impedance tomography (EIT) to show the feasibility of using cell phones in medical imaging. EIT is based upon the principle that diseased tissue transmits electrical currents differently from healthy tissue. The difference in resistance from electrical currents is translated into an image, which the team transmitted via cell phone technology. Using commercially available parts, the research team built a simple data acquisition device for the experiment. The device had 32 stainless steel electrodes - half to inject the electrical current and the other half to measure the voltage - connected to a gel-filled container that simulated breast tissue with a tumor. A total of 225 voltage measurements were taken and uploaded to a cell phone, which was hooked up to the device with a USB cable. The cell phone was then used to dial into a powerful central computer that contained software to process the packet of raw data that was transmitted. An image was then reconstructed and sent back to the cell phone for viewing. The researchers verified that the simulated tumor was clearly visible in the image, demonstrating the proof-of-principle that this system is feasible. The work on this project was supported by the US National Institutes of Health's National Center for Research Resources, the Israel Science Foundation and Florida Hospital in Orlando. Research is continuing to further develop the technology with various imaging modalities.