BERLIN, Nov. 4 -- German researchers are developing a technique for diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis using laser light that they say takes only a few minutes to give a result and should pick up the condition earlier than current tests.
Initial tests have shown the exam was able to accurately identify more than 80 percent of cases, and a clinical study is set to begin before the end of this year, Professor Juergen Beuthan of the Berlin Free University's institute for medical physics and laser medicine told Reuters Health Thursday.
Beuthan said he was optimistic the test will give medics an early jump on the condition and give more patients the chance to hold the pain of full-blown rheumatoid arthritis -- for which there is no cure -- at bay.
The diagnosis is made using a laser scanner that sends an infrared light through a joint, usually a finger joint, and the degree by which the light is scattered as it passes through the tissue is then processed by a computer. The technique gives information about joint fluid and the membrane surrounding the bone. If light is more scattered than it would be when passed through a normal joint, it means the fluid has thickened, indicating the early onset of rheumatism, the article said.
"Any general practitioner could use this. They all have computers, all they need in addition would be the software and the infrared scanner," the researcher told Reuters. He added that clinical indications must also be considered when using this technique in order to make a diagnosis.
Work is also being carried out in the US using infrared light to produce three-dimensional images of joints, the article said. Beuthan said he is working closely with colleague Andreas Hielscher at Columbia University in New York on the possibilities of the technique for producing more in-depth images.
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