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Researchers to develop new imaging platform for chronic, painful inflammatory skin conditions

Richard and Loan Hill Department of Biomedical Engineering Professor Kamran Avanaki

Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a debilitating chronic inflammatory disease of the skin and subcutaneous tissue that affects approximately 6 million people in the United States, with occurrence more common in women than in men. HS is difficult to diagnose and treat, with no imaging options currently available that can fully capture the disease.

Associate Professor Kamran Avanaki of the Richard and Loan Hill Department of Biomedical Engineering plans to build a multi-modal imaging system that will generate full 3D images of HS lesions through a recent National Institutes of Health R01 grant worth $2.6 million.

Photoacoustic imaging will be able to make diagnoses and treatment much more manageable. The system will make treatments more effective because the device will monitor the extent of the inflammation in real time. Along with the imaging system, he and his team will also develop image processing software to create an HS likelihood map and test the system on patients with HS.

Avanaki is working with UIC Department of Dermatology Assistant Professor and Associate Program Director Roger Haber, Rush University Department of Dermatology Assistant Professor and Dermatology Infusion Center Director Kyle Amber, Department of Surgery Assistant Professor Thea Price, and fellow member of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine and University of Chile Department of Dermatology Adjunct Professor Ximena Wortsman.

Ultrasound (US) imaging can aid in HS diagnosis and staging but is infrequently used in the U.S. and is limited to detecting structural defects. Using optical excitation and acoustic detection, photoacoustic (PA) imaging can detect many biomarkers of HS identified by histology and could aid in HS diagnosis and treatment planning.

Avanaki’s system will incorporate PA imaging with US imaging. Initially, it will be focused on the diagnosis of HS and, importantly, determining the extent of HS.

“Photoacoustic imaging, combined with ultrasound, is the perfect imaging system for analyzing HS because it has the necessary depth penetration and will detect the structural and functional changes caused by this disease,” Avanaki said.

Specifically, photoacoustic will be able to visualize the lumps and fluid buildups, the first signs of HS, as well as later developments, which can include deep tunnels, changes in vascularization, and other changes in collagen, keratin, and lipids that are the hallmarks of HS.

Avanaki hopes his system will lower the mistakes and ease the difficulties by developing image processing software to present dermatologists with a full 3D view of a patient’s skin and HS lesions. The proposed imaging system and associated algorithms could reduce HS morbidity in direct clinical use by enabling more accurate surgeries and better-targeted pharmacological treatments. They could also assist future HS investigators in developing more effective drugs and individualized therapeutic strategies.

Avanaki has long been active in developing specific imaging solutions for the diagnosis and treatment monitoring of different skin diseases such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and especially melanoma.