Terahertz imaging and spectroscopy of skin for medical diagnosis

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Physics


The aim of the project is to take significant steps towards the development of a THz imaging system that can be applied in a clinical setting for the imaging of patients to diagnose potential skin diseases. At present, work still needs to be done in improving the repeatability of the imaging results, for example by controlling the pressure and accounting for occlusion effects.

It has already been established that THz systems are able to observe a contrast between healthy and cancerous tissue, however repeatable parameters for healthy and cancerous skin need to be defined. In particular, I the potential applications of THz in detecting early stages of skin cancer and to defining preoperatively the lateral extent of tumours below the skin will be studied. Hannah will visit and collaborate with the THz company in Cambridge, TeraView Ltd to learn from their experience of developing THz instrumentation. She will also collaborate with the international cosmetic company, Lubrizol, for advice on aspects relating to skin product research.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509796/1 30/09/2016 29/09/2021
2108773 Studentship EP/N509796/1 05/08/2018 12/01/2022 Hannah Hatcher
EP/R513374/1 30/09/2018 29/09/2023
2108773 Studentship EP/R513374/1 05/08/2018 12/01/2022 Hannah Hatcher
Description Collaborating with our industrial partner Lubrizol who specialise in the production and testing of skincare products has led to significant development in the use of THz imaging for skin hydration evaluation. We were able to conduct a study involving 20 subjects measuring their skin using a THz imaging system evaluating the impact of three types of moisturising samples. The key step forward came from the fact that these subjects were also measured using a Corneometer and a Tewameter, two of the present gold standard techniques for skin hydration assessment. This is the first known comparison between THz imaging and other commercial techniques for skin assessment and is an important first step towards the validation of THz imaging as a skin assessment modality.

Additionally, work has been undertaken to enhance the repeatability of THz measurements of living subjects. As THz light is very sensitive to a number of variables including the pressure of the skin on the imaging window it is important to develop a robust protocol to carry out these measurements. A pressure sensor device was integrated with the THz system to make it possible to record whether the contact pressure is within the desired limit. The device also includes two LEDs which indicate to the subject whether they need to change the pressure of the arm on the imaging window.
Exploitation Route This work can be progressed further by using the robust, repeatable protocol for further in vivo measurements of the skin to use THz imaging techniques to learn more about the skin and the way different skin types respond to different samples. Additionally, the enhanced repeatability opens the door to use THz imaging to assess potentially cancerous skin regions and I hope this research will progress to in vivo trials involving skin cancer patients. Finally, there is also opportunity to progress the field of non contact THz measurements to remove some of the effects on the skin which arise during contact measurements of the skin. Some of this work will be carried out by myself in the final year of my PhD and the remainder will be done by PhD students who have joined the group more recently, I will pass on my experience and skills to them before I finish.
Sectors Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Title Pressure Sensor 
Description A pressure sensor was developed which is integrated with the commercial THz system used for in vivo measurements. This gives a live response to guide subjects in applying a constant pressure throughout the measurement and records the pressure outcomes. This was developed alongside a robust protocol for in vivo skin measurements using THz imaging techniques. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact A paper was published (https://doi.org/10.1007/s10762-019-00619-8) sharing this robust protocol with the academic community and this work demonstrates that using this it is possible to obtain repeatable in vivo measurements of the skin using THz reflection measurements. This makes it possible to apply THz imaging for multiple in vivo studies including the assessment of the effect of moisturisers on skin hydration. 
Title Evaluation of in vivo THz Imaging for Assessing Human Skin Hydration 
Description Data taken from 20 human subjects using in vivo thz tds measurements and using a corneometer. Measurements taken before treatment after 20 minutes after treatment. Treatment regions: 1:Anhydrous, 2:Aqueous, 3:Water-in-Oil, 4:Control.Pressure data and thz data in the h5 files within the folders, corneometer data in a single spreadsheet. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This dataset presents a study of 20 human subjects measured with two different techniques, this makes it possible to assess the validity of THz imaging as a modality for skin hydration quantification. 
URL https://figshare.com/articles/Evaluation_of_in_vivo_THz_Imaging_for_Assessing_Human_Skin_Hydration/1...
Description Lubrizol/Lipotec 
Organisation Lubrizol Corporation
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Our research group have hosted our collaborators from Barcelona to take part in a study organised by us comparing the capabilities of our THz imaging system with those of presently used techniques for skin characterisation. Our group has performed extensive analysis of the data taken of the skin on a living human subject using THz light, this made it possible to compare results from different techniques.
Collaborator Contribution Our collaborators brought two skin measuring devices: the corneometer and the Tewameter to our university to take part in a study comparing these different approaches. We have regular meetings with our collaborators to exchange knowledge, particularly they advise on suitable protocols for studying the skin and how to process the data. Our collaborators have also provided my skin care samples for us to test. I travelled to visit their site in Barcelona in February 2020 to have a tour of their in vivo labs and their facilities for the production and testing of skin samples.
Impact This multidisciplinary collaboration consists of the Physics department at the University of Warwick and Lubrizol who specialise in developing and testing skin care products. It has lead to two publications in peer reviewed journals and two conference proceedings in at the IRMMW-THZ conference: 10.1007/s10762-019-00619-8 and 10.1088/2515-7647/abcb71.
Start Year 2018