Bioengineering News

Professor Stephen Boppart earns $5 million federal grant to advance imaging for primary care physicians

Greta Weiderman
7/1/2011  2:15 pm

The National Institutes of Health just awarded University of Illinois Bioengineering professor Dr. Stephen Boppart a $5 million grant for a bioengineering research partnership that will develop new handheld optical imaging technology for primary care providers.

“The result of this – if successful, could really reduce our health care costs and streamline our delivery of health care,” Boppart said. 

Boppart’s research team will partner with Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, the Eye Center in Champaign, Welch Allyn (the global leader in office-based diagnostic instruments), Texas Instruments, AdvancedMEMS and Kyungpook National University in Korea.

The goal of the partnership is to create and test handheld devices capable of 3D optical coherence tomography (OCT) for primary care physicians to image the ear, eye, skin, oral tissue or cervix.


An early prototype of the handheld scanner has both OCT and video imaging capabilities and

interchangeable tips for the eyes, ears, skin and oral tissue. As one example, the device images

the retina and the anterior eye structures (bottom right).


The partnership will develop a new imaging system to integrate OCT imaging with the otoscope and ophthalmoscope, which currently only magnify and light the surface of tissue.

“We are trying to build a small, handheld unit that has multiple tips,” Boppart said. “What’s collected is 3D digital data that can image several millimeters into tissue and at micron-scale resolution.” These images could replace biopsies in some cases, providing a noninvasive diagnostic tool. 

“The primary care physician is the best person to screen the general population for disease,” Boppart said.

Better imaging and diagnostic tools will empower primary care physicians and will allow for earlier detection of diseases, quantitative measurements, ongoing monitoring of diseases and better referrals.

Tests using the new technology will focus on two common patient problems – middle ear infections and diabetic retinopathy. More specifically, the system will allow physicians to detect and quantify bacterial biofilms in the middle ear that are associated with chronic ear infections. “We think that it’s going to completely change the way we treat ear infections,” Boppart said.

The system will also allow for earlier detection of diabetic retinopathy and to quantify changes during treatment for that disease.

These are just two examples of how the system could be used.

Boppart said the project will fund the research partnership for five years and potentially be renewed for an additional five years. The goal for the next five years of the partnership is to demonstrate the technology and create a standardized prototype. Then larger clinical trials can begin, he said.    

The project has already been underway for three years, and imaging of patients has been occurring for the past year and a half.