The Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics (IAC), the Hospiten Group and the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC) have opened a line of collaborative work to study the application of astrophysical technology in the diagnosis and evaluation of diabetic foot injuries.
Juan Ruiz Alzola, researcher at the IAC and ULPGC professor, Manuel Maynar Moliner, head of the Endoluminal/Endovascular Diagnostics and Therapeutics Service at Hospiten and Scientific Director of the Chair of Medical Technologies at the ULPGC, and Rafael Rebolo Lopez, director of the IAC recently met at Hospiten Rambla in Santa Cruz de Tenerife to discuss the thermography project to build social awareness and for the evaluation of diabetic foot injuries. An initiative financed by the European INTERREG MAC program and the Tenerife Island Government, through the IACTec training program, the IAC technology and business cooperation space.
Diabetic foot is an injury that affects a significant number of diabetics. According to World Health Organization estimates 422 million adults worldwide had diabetes in 2014. As for the Canary Islands, according to 2013 data, 13% of the population of the Canary Islands suffers from diabetes, more than 270,000 people. Some 70,000 people affected are unaware they are diabetic.
Due to different reasons, people with diabetes are between 15 and 40 times more likely to suffer lower limb amputation. In the last five years, the Canary Islands have been at the forefront of this type of intervention, carrying out more than 3,000 amputations related to this complication that results in limitations in the patient’s life and increases the risk of death.
It is estimated that about 50% of amputations associated with diabetic foot could be prevented with a patient education program and adequate examinations before injuries occur. For this reason, Manuel Maynar insists on the need to work on raising public awareness about the disease. It is essential that those affected by the disease and with the risk of diabetic foot regularly check their feet to allow them to act quickly in the event of an ulcer forming.
The IAC, the ULPGC and Hospiten are working on a joint project whose main aim is “to provide tools that help build awareness among diabetics of the need to monitor the condition of their feet, facilitating the early detection of ulcers to therefore prevent amputations”, explained Dr. Maynar. "This technology," he added, "will help awareness among the public and early treatment."
The thermography and diabetic foot project is being developed within the framework of the IACTec medical technology program, whose mission is to promote public-private collaboration, promoting the generation of technological products with high added value and high commercialization potential, both in the national and international fields.
This project develops two prototypes. The first is based on an infrared sensor that allows measurements to be taken of the surface temperature of the foot. The second, on the other hand, is based on microwave technology and allows temperature measurement of the tissue under the visible surface of the foot to be taken. Both systems provide complementary measurements that allow the evaluation of possible diabetic foot injuries at an early stage of the disease.
During the meeting, Rafael Rebolo explained that the objective of this project is "to generate a system that can be replicated economically and that provides maximum information and the greatest number of data for study." A proposal that Quintin Melo Robayna, FCO of Hospiten, found feasible: "Given the level of the project, scope and impact it will have, we understand that it should not be a problem to obtain funding for it," he said.
Coinciding with the need seen by Maynar and continuing with the idea of Rebolo on gathering information, Ruiz Alzola explained that "the mechanism to obtain data and apply technology like Artificial Intelligence is raising awareness among the public”.
The current phase of the project is validating the first prototype based on an infrared sensor with which you can get an image of the temperature of the feet, which naturally give off electromagnetic radiation in the range of thermal infrared that cannot be seen by the human eye, but can be seen with infrared cameras. Using this system, we obtain an image of the temperature of the foot surface and detect problems that we are not able to see by simple sight or with a conventional camera. When diabetic foot ulcers begin to form, but their effects are not yet visible, there is an increase in the local temperature of the affected area that can be detected by this technology used in astrophysics to observe the light of objects invisible to the human eye.
Regarding the challenges of this short-term project, Yolanda Martin Hernando, the IAC engineer leading the project, said they want to focus on “improving the system software so that it can be used in users’ homes” and “to increase the number of clinical cases so we can work with larger databases”.
Currently, the first tests of the thermal infrared-based system with diabetic foot patients are under way. This stage of the project is carried out in collaboration with the Hospiten Group, in whose facilities validation of the prototype is taking place.