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SPIE Professional July 2013

Thermal imaging for health settings

By Ford Burkhart

Photonics for a Better World logo

Potentially life-saving medical uses of thermal imagery are gaining interest in areas like inflammatory breast cancer, pain alleviation, and diabetes, but it’s slow going since the techniques are often considered alternative medicine.

Gary Strahan, CEO of Infrared Cameras Inc. (USA), says his company’s cameras have checked athletes at the Beijing Olympics to ensure that their body heat was not excessive, and in the last Tour de France, a handheld version helped to check riders’ conditions.

Thermal imaging can also spot a lack of blood flow to the body’s extremities, a common feature in diabetic patients.

“In an emergency room, why not image a patient’s body thermally right away?” Strahan asked the audience at the ThermoSense: Thermal Infrared Applications conference at SPIE Defense, Security and Sensing in Baltimore in April.

Strahan said some pioneers are using images of heat as sources of information about medical conditions such as diabetes, back pain, and inflammatory breast cancer.

With a painful back injury, for instance, thermography can reveal the location of inflammation, and therefore pain, Strahan said. "If you see a difference in the symmetry of the body, you can have a window into pain, and it's nonintrusive."

A lump in breast tissue can indicate cancer, but conventional mammography won't find the inflammatory form of the disease, Strahan said. "Thermal will identify even small changes in inflammation."

He added that thermal techniques can be used in conjunction with acupuncture, to track changes in the central nervous system, and to help locate a potential basal cell carcinoma or melanoma skin cancer.

The robust participation in SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing 2013 — even with budget cuts in many parts of the world and sequestration and government travel restrictions in the U.S. — signaled the value placed on advanced sensing, IR, laser, and display technologies for both defense and commercial applications.

With more than 6,000 total registered attendance and 490 exhibiting companies, attendees took away valuable insights on the latest research in the area as well as new connections for suppliers and customers.

For more on the translational research presented at the annual symposium, visit the SPIE Digital Library or spie.org/dssnews.

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Read more articles and blog posts celebrating the many ways that photonics are applied in creating a better world:

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DOI: 10.1117/2.4201307.23

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