Liquid lens provides 3D images from under the skin’s surface

University of Rochester optics professor Jannick Rolland has developed an optical technology that is claimed to provide unprecedented images from under the skin’s surface.

The aim of the technology is to detect and examine skin lesions to determine whether they are benign or cancerous without having to take a skin biopsy.

Instead, the tip of a cylindrical probe is placed in contact with the tissue and a clear, high-resolution 3D image of what lies below the surface quickly emerges.

‘My hope is that, in the future, this technology could remove significant inconvenience and expense from the process of skin-lesion diagnosis,’ said Rolland. ‘When a patient walks into a clinic with a suspicious mole, for instance, they wouldn’t necessarily have to have it surgically cut out of their skin or be forced to have a costly and time-consuming MRI done.

‘Instead, a relatively small, portable device could take an image that will assist in the classification of the lesion right in the doctor’s office.’

According to a statement from Rochester, the device accomplishes this using a liquid lens set-up developed by Rolland and her team for a process known as Optical Coherence Microscopy.

In a liquid lens, a droplet of water takes the place of the glass in a standard lens. As the electrical field around the water droplet changes, the droplet changes its shape and therefore changes the focus of the lens.

This allows the device to take thousands of pictures focused at different depths below the skin’s surface. Combining these images is claimed to create a fully in-focus image of all of the tissue up to 1mm deep in human skin, which includes important skin tissue structures.

Because the device uses near-infrared light instead of ultrasounds, the images are said to have a precise, micron-scale resolution instead of a millimetre-scale resolution.

The process has been successfully tested on in-vivo human skin and Rolland says the next step is to start using it in a clinical research environment.