Portable scanning device developed for elephantiasis assessment

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Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine (MO, USA) were part of an international collaboration alongside physicians in Sri Lanka to design and test a research tool that can measure limb enlargement faster than any other method.

Worldwide ~120 million individuals are infected with lymphatic filariasis, a parasitic, mosquito-borne disease that causes the well-known condition known as elephantiasis. Currently, diagnosis and disease progression is tracked by tape measure or water displacement, which is the gold standard; however, these methods can be unpractical and unrepresentative.

The study, published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, reports a 3D scanning tool that easily allows doctors to determine whether treatments to reduce swelling from lymphedema are effective.

“This is important because it will allow doctors and researchers to take very accurate limb measurements in developing nations, where there are often limited tools to monitor swollen limbs,” reported the lead author of the study Philip Budge from Washington University.

“Unfortunately, the medication does not usually reverse lymphedema in those already affected,” Budge explained. “The ability to get these measurements rapidly will make it much easier to treat patients, including those in clinical trials exploring better treatment therapies.”

The device, which is principally an infrared laser sensor affixed to an iPad, was originally created by LymphaTech (GA, USA) to measure lymphedema in cancer patients.

After learning about the technology, Washington University researchers put the device to the test in a clinic in Sri Lanka on 52 patients with varying stages of lymphedema over a 2-year period.

Researchers reported that the scanner produced accurate results in a fraction of the time (2.2 minutes for both legs) when compared with other methods – in contrast, the tape measure and water displacement methods took an average of 7.5 minutes and 17.4 minutes, respectively.

“The scanning tool also offers convenience.” Budge concluded. “Many patients with swollen limbs often have great difficulty traveling from their homes to the clinic to have their measurements taken. The scanner should make it possible to take extremely accurate limb measurements in the patients’ homes or villages, without cumbersome equipment or inconveniencing patients.

To our knowledge, this is the first time that infrared 3D scanning technology has been used in patients with filarial lymphedema,” he added. “It worked so well that it has been added as a measurement tool in a future clinical trial in which we are collaborating.”

Sources: Yahathugoda C et al. Use of a novel portable three-dimensional scanner to measure limb volume and circumference in patients with filarial lymphedema. Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg. doi:10.4269/ajtmh.17-0504 (2017); https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/portable-3-d-scanner-assesses-patients-elephantiasis/

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