VisionQuest, University Have Hand in Foot Diagnosis

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An infrared imaging system to detect diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN) in patients’ feet, aided by artificial intelligence, has moved closer to use in clinics and hospitals, following the receipt of a three-year, $3 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The grant from the institute, which is under the umbrella of the National Institutes of Health, is the continuation of earlier funding used by VisionQuest Biomedical Inc. and the University of New Mexico (UNM) School of Medicine.

The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy indicates that over 70% of people with diabetes have DPN, which produces loss of sensation, foot ulcers, and thousands of amputations every year.
VisionQuest Fig 1: The recovery patterns of a foot with (bottom) and without diabetic peripheral neuropathy, shown in an infrared image. Courtesy of VisionQuest.
The recovery patterns of a foot with (bottom) and without diabetic peripheral neuropathy, shown in an infrared image. Courtesy of VisionQuest.

Simon Barriga, CEO of VisionQuest, said the system for scanning a person’s feet begins with a commercially available infrared camera, paired with specific software designed to capture a picture of a patient’s foot after cold stimulation (the bottom of the foot is treated with a cold pack) and as blood flow returns. The technology, which was patented six years ago, was invented by Peter Soliz, an electrical engineer who founded the company in 2007.

“The resulting videos are then analyzed using artificial intelligence to determine if there are patterns of blood flow recovery that are typical of nerve damage due to diabetic peripheral neuropathy,” Barriga said. “The device is meant to be used in both primary care settings as a screening device, as well as in specialists’ and podiatrists’ offices.”

Soliz said the technology began with a proof of concept, supported by a small business grant several years ago. The long-term goal, he said, is to take what could be bulky technology into the laboratory and make it a portable, luggage-size device that can be easily transported and used in a variety of clinical settings.

“We should have the device in several months, and then a clinical study including 300 to 400 subjects will take place over the following two years,” he said, referencing the NIDDK project, with the expectation the system will successfully differentiate between subjects with DPN and the control group.
The infrared DPN scanner setup. Courtesy of VisionQuest.
The infrared DPN scanner setup. Courtesy of VisionQuest.

The patients will come from the hospital at UNM. He said while VisionQuest and UNM are independent of each other, he has a long-standing working relationship with Mark Burge, deputy director of UNM’s Clinical & Translational Science Center, who is assisting in the project.

“The system will display a red light when there is a problem,” Soliz said. “Then further testing, such as nerve conduction studies [using electrical pulses to gauge nerve response] and skin biopsies, can proceed.”

He said there are two types of nerves, both small and large fiber, with the former difficult to monitor with existing, commercially available technologies.

“I have been interested in thermal imaging technologies ever since I retired from the Air Force,” he said. “But I know that doctors want to see proof this works, and that’s what we will be trying to give them. We eventually will go to the FDA for clearance to put this technology in the hands of clinics.”

Published: June 2020
BusinessdiagnosticsBiophotonicsdiabetesgrantgrant fundingImaginginfrared imagingRapidScan

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