New Scanner Predicts Future Diabetic Foot Ulcers Right Before Your Eyes 

Diabetes can cause foot ulcers; if left untreated, doctors may decide to remove the affected area. Researchers at the National Physical Laboratory near London are developing a scanning device that can help doctors recognize problem areas on patients’ feet before they become ulcers.

A new scanning device could help doctors prevent diabetic foot ulcers. The device, called DFirst, uses infrared light to identify areas of inflammation on the bottom of the patient’s foot. If left untreated, the inflamed “hot spots” could evolve into painful foot ulcers, risking amputation.

The DFirst scanner is a compact, hand-held device that looks like a cross between a table-top projector and a large Gameboy.

How DFirst works to find a foot ulcer

The secret to DFirst’s detection abilities lies in a thermal imaging camera core, sensitive to infrared light, or radiation. Unlike current scanners, the DFirst has the ability to scan the entire foot, decreasing the chances that the doctor will miss a spot until it’s too late.

Humans don’t have the ability to see infrared radiation with the naked eye, but sometimes we can feel it in the form of heat. In the case of a potential diabetic foot ulcer, the heat from the inflammation is too deep underneath the skin to notice.

However, the areas of inflammation will be slightly warmer than the healthy regions, they will appear bright red on the device’s display. This provides doctors with a “temperature map” of the patient’s foot, enabling them to pinpoint the exact location of a potential ulcer.

The problem affects diabetic patients worldwide

Developed by a research team in Britain, DFirst was designed to combat the rising national rates of diabetes-related foot amputation. Dr. Robert Simpson of the National Physical Laboratory, said British patients are undergoing diabetes-related amputation at the rate of 140 per week, roughly equal to one surgery every hour.  

In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a total of 400 million cases of diabetes. Currently, it is estimated that a foot ulcer will afflict around 25% of people living with diabetes. Developing a foot ulcer only increases the chances of developing another in the future.

An open wound that won’t heal

Diabetes causes a type of nerve damage called neuropathy, making it difficult for patients to sense pain, especially in the feet. It also hinders your body’s ability to circulate blood properly, which significantly slows down the healing process.

When a problem crops up, many patients don’t even realize it until they’re dealing with an open wound that won’t heal. It’s critically important for people living with diabetes to check their feet daily for visible signs of injury, like cuts and scrapes.

According to Dr. Simpson, amputations may sound the death knell for many diabetes patients. “Unfortunately,” he says, “the outlook is up to 50% of those who have an amputation are dead within two years, and up to 80% are dead within five years.”

That’s why Dr. Simpson and his research team are hoping for widespread use of the DFirst device to significantly reduce diabetic amputations. The DFirst has been testing for about two years. Designers are hoping to eventually scale the scanner down to the size of a smartphone.

For more information, check out the story on VOA News. We want to hear what you think!

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