Assessing the amount of inflammation in an arthritis patient’s joint can be a tough job for doctors.
But a team of Ottawa researchers — from Carleton, the University of Ottawa and the Ottawa Hospital — has discovered an easy and low-cost diagnostic tool to detect early onset of rheumatoid arthritis.
“This is an important breakthrough that will help doctors screen for early detection of this disease,” says Carleton Prof. Monique Frize, of the Department of Systems and Computer Engineering.
More than 300,000 Canadians are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis every year. It involves symptoms like heat, pain, swelling and redness. Within 10 years, half of these people will suffer painful, severe disabilities. Their life expectancy will probably be reduced by three to 18 years.
That’s why early detection and treatment of the disease is so important — it can prevent serious disability and deformity.
Currently, medical professionals rely on medical history, exams, lab tests and evaluation to diagnosis the disease. MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) and HRUS (high-resolution ultra-sound) are also used.
But these tests are costly and not readily available to everyone.
Frize and her team are trying to develop a low-cost way to diagnose early synovitis, a painful inflammation of the joints commonly found in RA.
Inflammation and limitation of motion are two important ways to monitor the disease.
In the first phase, researchers are using an infrared camera to measure temperatures in the joints of 31 people. For the research, 13 people have been diagnosed with RA. Another 18 people without the disease are used as the control group.
“This is an innovative approach,” Frize says. “You don’t touch the patient. There is no radioactivity. It’s like taking a picture with a camera.”
Results show there are measurable differences in temperatures of the joints and hands of RA patients versus control subjects.
“Our preliminary results show it can be done,” she adds. “Using this technology, we can separate symptomatic patients from non-patients.
“We wanted to separate the level of low, medium and high activity for rheumatoid arthritis. We have been able to do that now.”
The tool can also be used by doctors to measure the effectiveness of therapy.
For the next phase of the project, infrared imaging, visual imaging and MRI studies will be collected and compared.
Frize estimates it could take just three to five years to bring this technology to the market.
“It will help people not only in Canada but around the world,” says Frize. “That’s the motivation behind my work.”