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Medical imaging could be a cell phone call away

Jun 2008
Approximately three-quarters of people worldwide have no access to medical imaging, according to the World Health Organization, based in Geneva. It is estimated that medical imaging would benefit the diagnosis and treatment of 20 percent of diseases. Developing countries often import their imaging equipment; consequently, a portion of it is underutilized because of a lack of spare parts or a lack of proper training for health care personnel.

Researchers have demonstrated the concept of using cell phone technology for medical imaging. This cell phone image represents a simulated breast tumor, shown in red. Courtesy of Boris Rubinsky.

Increasingly, cellular phones are being used in parts of the world where sophisticated medical technology is not available. Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted an experiment to determine the feasibility of using mobile phones in remote and underserved areas to transmit medical images to centralized health care centers to obtain diagnoses and treatment information. The work is detailed in the April 30 issue of the online journal Public Library of Science ONE.

Boris Rubinsky, a professor at both universities, has developed a medical imaging system consisting of two units connected through cellular phone technology. A simple data-acquisition device with limited controls and no image display capacity would be used at the remote patient site, and an advanced image construction and hardware control multiserver unit would be employed at a distant medical facility. The cell phone would transmit raw unprocessed data obtained from the patient site and then receive and display the processed image from the medical facility.

The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of the concept using an electrical impedance tomography system as the imaging modality. Through a cellular phone, they imaged a simulation of breast cancer tumors in a medical imaging diagnostic mode and imaged minimally invasive tissue ablation with irreversible electroporation in medical imaging interventional mode.

Research is expected to further develop the technology with various imaging modalities, including ultrasound, x-rays and MRI, for applications such as confirming signs of active tuberculosis infection or monitoring fetal development.

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