New imaging technique simulates visual effects of melanin, collagen, hemoglobin changes in skin

September 1, 2007

Seeing is believing, and seeing detailed images of the outcomes of cosmetic treatments as well as medical treatments in patients before the actual treatment has been carried out, can prove to be an invaluable tool for physicians and patients alike, and almost sounds too good to be true. Yet, recent technological breakthroughs developed by a UK based company have made this dream scenario possible, with the development of the SIAscopy device.

Cambridge, England - The imaging of various skin components, such as melanin, collagen and hemoglobin, can be very helpful in clinical and cosmetic dermatology.

Astron Clinica, a Britain-based company, has developed SIAscopy, an imaging technique that can accurately measure the amounts of hemoglobin, collagen and melanin in the skin using a scanner held in contact with the skin (Contact SIAscopy). Also, it can measure blood and melanin using an off-the-shelf digital camera and flash (Non-contact SIAscopy). Noncontact SIAscopy can be used to help predict outcomes of various treatments, such as laser therapies, microdermabrasions and acne therapy, offering "before" and "after" images of treatment before the actual treatment has been done.

"Contact SIAscopy is able to examine the main components of the skin, such as hemoglobin, melanin, dermal melanin and collagen, and provide a detailed set of images that add up to a powerful tool in the diagnosing and the monitoring of various skin diseases and skin conditions, such as skin cancers, psoriasis, acne, eczema, skin de-pigmentation, skin aging and scars," says Symon Cotton, Ph.D., scientific director at Astron Clinica, Cambridge, England, and inventor of SIAscopy.

Dr. Cotton tells Dermatology Times contact SIAscopy was originally developed to address the growing need to better assess malignant melanoma, measuring living pathological changes in melanoma, concentrations of melanin, blood supply and collagen, and the precise location of melanin.

Therefore, the device had to be extremely accurate, and had to be able to operate within huge architectural changes in the skin. SIAscopy has now found its niche in other dermatologic applications, such as wound management and cosmetic development.

"Noncontact SIAscopy involves building a model of the interaction of light with the skin using the camera as a broadband spectrometer. The model is generated by calculating the absorption of the spectrum of the color CCD of the camera combined with a look-up table of melanin and blood concentrations. This allows a mathematical link between the RGB data of the camera and the histological content of the skin to be made.

"Therefore, by building this model in reverse, it is also possible to work in the other direction and predict the changes in RGB space caused by changes in blood and melanin. As the blood and melanin maps produced are constructed of floating point data, this data can be changed to simulate the effects of a treatment," Dr. Cotton explains.

He says that medically, for example in psoriasis or acne patients, the device can be used to monitor and assess patients. Physicians can set benchmarks and do highly objective measurements regarding the exact location and severity of lesions. The measurements made are completely objective and repeatable. He says if an observer looks at the blood flow, acne lesions will show up well, because each lesion is highly vascular. Objective assessments can be easily made at the beginning, middle and end of a treatment course.

"Non-Contact SIAscopy is particularly useful for monitoring patients with numerous moles, and closely observing these moles for pathologic change," Dr. Cotton says.

The same image simulation can be realized with laser treatments, such as vascular lasers, and can project what the patient will look like after a cosmetic procedure. Similarly, the results of microdermabrasion can be accurately mimicked prior to a single treatment, virtually taking approximately 10 years off a patient's age.

"You can also demonstrate to patients what they would look like if they did not stop sunbathing and using sunbeds, virtually. You can accurately show them the result of the damage they are doing now, if they continue a certain lifestyle," Dr. Cotton says.