The 4D imaging, which adds information on light polarization is based on self-assembling liquid crystal microlenses that can reveal 4D information in one exposure. This is a different approach to other ‘4D’ medical imaging concepts, such as 4D ultrasound which aims to monitor the flow of fluids in real-time (such as the motion of heart valves).
The reason why 4D medical imaging is of interest is because polarized light has increased effectiveness in detecting cancerous cells compared with standard (or unpolarized light). Polarized light refers to light waves in which the vibrations occur in a single plane, contrasting with unpolarized light where the waves produced have their oscillation moving at all different angles (such as the light from the Sun).
One aspect that has hampered the development of 4D medical imaging is the size and scale of the equipment needed to generate the image. As well as being large and heavy, such technology is also very expensive. The new approach, promises lower costs and a smaller size, together with improved image clarity.
The new technology is in the form of a portable, inexpensive and easy-to-use microlens that can simultaneously acquire data about cell space and depth (three dimensional imaging) and light polarization information, which come together to generate four-dimensional images of human cells and tissue structures.
The portability and smaller size is based on the microlenses. These are fashioned from liquid crystals, very similar to the materials found in everyday electronic displays. The variation with the new technology was the way scientists altered the pattern of the liquid crystals to form concentric circles.
The research has been published in the journal ACS Nano, with the paper titled “Assembled Asymmetric Microlenses for Four-Dimensional Visual Imaging.”