Three Indian Americans will help develop camera that sees through skin


NEW YORK – The National Science Foundation has awarded a combined $10 million to researchers at five universities, including three Indian Americans, according to a Carnegie Mellon University press release.

Srinivasa Narasimhan of Carnegie Mellon University, Ashutosh Sabharwal of Rice University and Ramesh Raskar of Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be part of a five-year program that will develop a new type of camera that peers deep beneath the skin to help diagnose and monitor a wide variety of health conditions.

The project will be led by Rice University and will combine advanced optics and sophisticated computation to make sense of light that penetrates the skin but scatters off internal tissues and anatomical structures, enabling noninvasive bio-optical imaging at a cellular scale.

“Bioimaging today enables us to see just a few millimeters beneath the skin. We’d like to go five to 10 times deeper. With every additional millimeter we go, this technology becomes more useful. We hope that eventually it might reduce or eliminate the need for biopsies,” said Narasimhan, the associate director of the project and a computer vision researcher and professor in CMU’s Robotics Institute.

“Expeditions supports transformative research, and our goal is to create miniaturized, light-based microscopes for use in wearables, point-of-care, bedside diagnostics, ambulances, operating rooms and more,” said Sabharwal, the principal investigator on the grant and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice.

The key of the project is to develop a technique called “computational scatterography” in which most of that light that passes through the body is scattered and that scattering can cause the tissue to glow, just like when a flashlight is pointed at the palm of a hand.

Until now, the scattered light was of little use for medical imaging but new computer vision techniques allow scientists to make more sense of scattered light, essentially descattering the light by tracing the paths that photons took before they reached the camera.

Ioannis Gkioulekas, an assistant professor of robotics, said that CMU researchers have used similar techniques to see through fog, snow and heavy rain and now are applying those lessons to the task of bioimaging.

“Imagine a wearable device no larger than a watch that uses sensors to continuously measure white blood cell count and wirelessly communicate with the oncologist’s office. The patient could go about their daily life. They’d only have to go to the hospital if there were a problem. If we succeed, this isn’t just one product. It’s a platform technology that will be able to spinoff into many products that can be used in the care of nearly 100 health conditions,” Sabharwal said.

The NSF’s newly announced Expeditions in Computing program includes four co-investigators at CMU and another seven at Rice, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University.