Saturday September 13, 2003
Scientists and engineers from the Institute of Food Research and Lancaster University in the UK are developing a fast, safe and non-invasive scanner to accurately measure the composition of the human body, both inside and out. Aimed at providing a safe and cheap alternative to using X-rays or MRI scanners, the prototype device uses an electromagnetic technique combined with digital cameras to create a 3D image of the body's shape and map internal composition.
"Techniques exist for measuring body shape and composition separately, but we are developing a system to put them together in one scanning cubicle with a sensor ring that takes just 20 seconds to scan the whole body. Using an electromagnetic technique to analyse body composition could also enable us to work out the distribution of fat and water", says Dr Henri Tapp of the Institute of Food Research.
Because body composition is an indicator of an individual's nutritional status and health, the device has potential applications in monitoring child development, pregnancy, recovery from injury or surgery and changes during diet and exercise regimes.
Information on body shape plus internal water and fat can also be used in analysing the associated health risks such as heart disease and the system could also be used in gyms and fitness centres to provide feedback on physical progress.
The special scanning cubicle is fitted with four digital cameras and eight light projectors that map the surface contours of the body and give body volume. The camera and coils are fitted to a sliding sensor ring, designed to scan the whole body as a series of horizontal 'slices'.
The scanner has the coils and cameras mounted on a ring that sweeps past the subject as they stand in a cubicle to build up a picture of the body as a series of horizontal 'slices'. In comparison, a commercially available device measures only volume - from the amount of air displaced by a person placed within a sealed chamber. Similarly, you can also buy bathroom scales fitted with electrodes that predict fat, from estimating the water content based on the conductivity of the body.
The current stage of development of the prototype, which was funded as part of an EU project, BodyLife, was presented at the 3rd World Congress on Industrial Process Tomography in Canada earlier this month and the next stage is to further develop the prototype for clinical trials and validation of the technology.