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Tapping The Vein Perfectly Through Science

Talk about cool science, one day in the not too distant future, you may not have to worry about where your doctor's nurse -- remember the one with the ice cold hands and the hand/eye coordination of Mr. Magoo -- gives you your next blood test. Instead, he or she will easily locate a vein on your arm with the help of a vein contrast enhancer.

The device projects a green video image of a patient's veins onto their skin, enabling medical professionals to target the right veins, prevent discomfort and slash delays in doing injections, blood tests and potentially life-saving intravenous drips.

A prototype of the enhancer uses a near-infrared camera to capture a real-time video image of the patient's veins, a PC to enhance the contrast of the image and a desktop video projector to display it on the skin in real time.

An array of near-infrared LEDs surrounding the camera's lens illuminates the skin at a wavelength of 740 nanometres. This wavelength is strongly absorbed by blood, but is scattered by the surrounding tissue so that fat and tissue look light, but veins and blood look dark.

The image from the camera is fed to a PC running imaging software that maps the image onto a bright green background in real time and boosts the contrast between the veins and surrounding tissue. The PC then feeds this image to a projector that beams it onto the skin.

The enhancer can detect veins up to 8 mm below the surface of the skin and can fit in a package the size of a shoebox, making it portable enough to be mounted on an intravenous drip stand. Three prototypes will used in clinical trials at a Tennessee hospital later this year.

New Scientist October 6, 2004

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