3d images

Team develops wearable device that creates 3D images of skin in 10 minutes

A team from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has developed a wearable device that produces high-resolution 3D images of human skin in 10 minutes.

The team said the wearable skin mapping (imaging) device could be used to assess the severity of skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis.

3D skin mapping could be useful for clinicians because most equipment used to assess skin conditions only provides 2D images of the skin surface. As the device also maps the depth of skin ridges and grooves down to 2mm, it could also help monitor wound healing.

The device presses a specially designed film onto the subject’s skin to obtain an imprint of up to 5 by 5 centimeters, which is then subjected to an electrical charge, generating a 3D image.

The researchers designed and 3D printed a prototype of their device using polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable bioplastic. The battery-operated device, which measures 7cm by 10cm, weighs only 100 grams.

The NTU-made prototype is developed at a fraction of the cost of devices with comparable technologies, such as optical coherence tomography (OCT) machines, which can cost thousands of dollars and weigh up to 30 kilograms.

Assistant Professor Grzegorz Lisak of NTU’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who led the research, said: “Our non-invasive, simple and inexpensive device could be used to complement current methods of diagnosing and treating skin diseases. In rural areas that don’t have easy access to healthcare, non-medically trained staff can create skin maps using the device and send them to doctors for evaluation.”

Providing an independent commentary on how the device can benefit clinicians, Dr. Yew Yik Weng, Consultant Dermatologist at the National Skin Center and Assistant Professor at NTU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, said, “The technology is an interesting way to map the surface texture of human skin. This could be a useful method for mapping skin texture and wound healing in a 3D manner, which is particularly important in research and clinical trials. As the device is battery-operated and portable, there is great potential in its development into a point-of-care assessment tool in clinical settings.

Assistant Professor Dr Yew added: “The device could be particularly useful in studies involving wound healing, as we currently lack a tool that maps the length and depth of skin ridges. Currently, we rely on photographs or measurements in our tests which may only provide a 2D assessment.”

The study’s first author, Dr. Fu Xiaoxu, a PhD student from NTU’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said, “The 3D skin mapping device is simple to use. Besides that, a 1.5V dry cell battery is all that’s needed. to operate the device. This is an example of a basic but very effective application of electrochemistry, as no expensive electronic hardware is required.

Published in the scientific journal Analytica Chemicala Acta this month, the technology was developed by Assistant Professor Lisak, who is also the Director of the Tailings and Resource Recovery Center at the Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute (NEWRI) and his doctoral student, Mr. Fu Xiaoxu.

The “golden” solution for 3D skin mapping

The key component of the NTU device is a polymer called PEDOT:PSS, commonly used in solar panels to convert light into electricity. However, the team found a different use for its electrical conductivity – to reproduce skin patterns on gold-coated film. Gold is used because it has excellent electrical conductivity and excellent flexibility.

To use the device, a person presses a button to press the gold film onto the subject’s skin to obtain an imprint. This causes sebum, an oily substance produced by the skin, to transfer onto the film, creating an imprint of the skin’s surface.

Next, the skin print is transferred to the handheld device where a set of electrodes are immersed in a solution. With another press of a button, the device initiates a flow of electrical charge, causing PEDOT:PSS to deposit on the surfaces of the gold-coated film in areas that are not covered in sebum. The result is a high-resolution 3D map of the skin, which mirrors the ridges and grooves of the subject’s skin.

Using pigskin as a model, the researchers demonstrated that the technology was able to map the pattern of various injuries such as punctures, lacerations, abrasions and incisions.

The team also showed that even the intricate network of wrinkles on the back of a human hand could be captured on film. The thin film is also flexible enough to map the characteristics of uneven skin areas, such as elbow creases and fingerprints.

Assistant Professor Lisak added: “The device has also proven to be effective in taking fingerprints and gives a high resolution 3D image of their characteristics.”

Commenting on the potential uses of the device, Assistant Professor Dr Yew added: “The device can assist in fingerprint identification, which is commonly performed in forensic analysis. The device could offer a degree of higher accuracy when differentiating similar fingerprints, due to the 3D nature of its images.”

To further validate its effectiveness, the team plans to conduct clinical trials later this year to test the feasibility of their device, as well as other potential therapeutic uses.