Medical issues such as lymphedema, edema and lymphatic obstruction are painful and difficult to diagnose.
These diseases consist of fluid build-up and occlusion, or blockage, of blood flow, usually in an appendage such as an arm or a leg. Often caused by cancer treatment, there is no cure for these conditions. Instead, lifestyle changes and adjustments to daily routines can make the symptoms manageable and reduce pain.
FIU researchers are looking at ways to detect these diseases early enough that they can be monitored and treated.
Professors Shekhar Bhansali and Jessica Ramella—who are in the College of Engineering & Computing and affiliated with the College of Arts, Sciences & Education’s Biomolecular Sciences Institute—were recently awarded a patent for a sensor designed to diagnose the conditions, in conjunction with researchers at the University of South Florida (USF).
"The sensor is a tool that can help diagnose disorders that cannot currently be diagnosed, much less treated,” Bhansali says.
According to Bhansali, lymphedema is nearly impossible to diagnose. The difficulty in diagnosing it leads to unnecessary pain and associated complications, such as cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection. If left for too long, the skin can harden and the swelling can increase.
But with this new technology, doctors can test the tissue for edema. According to the U.S. Patent Claim, there are four steps to the process.
First, the sensor device is attached to a body part of the patient. This takes multiple forms—from a laser or LED to a photodetector spectrometer to a portable, body-worn device.
Second, the device measures the skin hydration and saturation of hemoglobin of the subject. Hemoglobin is a red protein responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood.
Third, the device compares the measured levels of skin hydration and saturation of hemoglobin to those of a control, healthy sample.
Finally, the sensor works by determining the likelihood of fluid build-up and occlusion, or blockage, of blood. This helps doctors diagnose these diseases early enough to recommend life changes – such as massages, compression sleeves and exercise – that will help decrease painful symptoms.
“This could transform patient care,” Bhansali says. “[Lymphedema] must be diagnosed early so people can understand and modify their lifestyle.”
The main goal of their research, and the focus of this patent, is to reduce discomfort and pain. The inspiration came after Bhansali encountered patients with these types of diseases. He knew the progression of the diseases could be monitored.
Funded partially by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the next step for the patent is to look for companies interested in commercializing it. The patent holders, in addition to Bhansali and Ramella, are Karina Rincon from Doral, Florida, and Sanjukta Bhanja, professor and associate dean for Academics and Student Affairs at USF.
Bhansali adds, they are “fantastic collaborators. It was a blast working with them.”
Bhansali is the current interim director for the School of Electrical, Computer and Enterprise Engineering, as well as the chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Ramella is an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.