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Seeing under the skin to reveal early signs of heart disease and stroke


A revolutionary diagnostic technique that sees under the skin sounds rooted in the realms of science fiction. But an invention akin to the Star Trek small handheld body scanner that shines light into the skin to detect early signs of heart disease and stroke could be on the market in less than two years.

The painless test takes no more than five minutes to detect Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD), a condition that affects over 90 million people worldwide. What starts off as blood flow problems in the feet can develop fatal consequences if left unchecked. Once diagnosed, one in three people die within five years. But many deaths are preventable through early diagnosis, which is the aim of Dr Vincent Crabtree’s invention, PADD. Crabtree, an optical engineer from Loughborough University, was inspired by the plight of his grandfather who died at 55 after having his leg amputated due to PVD.

PADD represents a futuristic way to check out circulatory health that uses an infrared light beam no more powerful than a TV remote control. Quick and simple to use, this state of the art technology could replace the ankle brachial pressure index, a traditional pressure cuff measurement system.

“Current screening is time-consuming and requires skilled operators. It is also particularly unreliable on diabetics, who are extremely susceptible to PVD,” Crabtree explains. He continues: “PADD does not require any specialist training; it’s easy and safe to use and will be ideal for busy vascular clinics and GP surgeries.”

An infra red probe is held to the foot for a couple of minutes to assess how well the blood supply adapts to forces of gravity caused by postural changes such as getting out of bed and standing up. The prototype technology is now undergoing a large clinical study at the Royal Free Hospital, London. PADD is expected to have regulatory approval in Europe and America within two years.

“If PVD is picked up early enough, many deaths could be prevented by better diet, exercise, drugs or surgery,” adds Jody Brown, CEO of Dialog Devices, the company launched to commercialise PADD. She continues, “The technology is attracting a lot of interest. We have raised £0.25M in venture capital and awards and started discussions with major medical device distributors. With a large scale trial already underway, the next step is to scale the prototype into a hand held, portable device.”

PADD has just been announced as a finalist at the Medical Futures Innovation Awards that attracted a record 1,200 entries from throughout the health care industry. The annual awards are widely regarded as the pre-eminent platform to unite high-level policy makers, strategic thinkers and grassroots practitioners and serve to promote excellence in medical innovation.

Anna Seddon | alfa
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