When someone has a problem skin condition, the affected skin is typically stiffer or softer than normal. A new sensor electromechanical detects these differences, and it could allow doctors to diagnose problems more quickly and easily.
From virtual reality to real health
The electromechanical device was developed by a collaboration between scientists from the City University of Hong Kong and Northwestern University in Illinois. It is actually adapted from a tool previously developed at the latter institution, to provide tactile feedback to users of virtual reality systems.
How the electromechanical sensor works
At only 2,5mm thick by approximately 2 square cm (0,3 square inch) in the contact area, the wired electromechanical sensor is simply placed on a person's skin, in a position where a problem is suspected.
An alternating electric current is then applied through the coils on the device, causing an integrated magnet to vibrate rapidly.
As the magnet vibrates, it sends pressure waves up to 8mm into the skin. The skin deforms rapidly in response to those waves, to an extent determined by its tensile stiffness.
The sensor transmits these skin deformations to a connected computer which translates the data into a skin stiffness value. Finally, this value can be compared with those associated with specific skin disorders.
A detector of psoriasis and skin disorders
There are already diagnostic systems that measure the tensile stiffness of the skin. However, they are generally large devices that must be operated by qualified technicians. Also they can only "read" the outermost layer of the skin.
On the contrary, if marketed, the new electromechanical sensor would be much cheaper.
It could be used by doctors in their offices or even to monitor skin health in their own homes.
Electromechanical sensor: The tests already carried out and future applications
The electromechanical sensor has already been the subject of clinical studies, both on healthy skin and on that of patients with skin problems.
Among other things, it was found that it reliably detects psoriasis after just one minute of use. Once the technology is further developed, it may be able to detect other conditions as well.
The data produced by the electromechanical sensor will help in diagnosis, treatment and disease monitoring, particularly for disorders such as melanoma.
They will also be useful in the aspects of aesthetic dermatology and recovery from superficial wounds.