Better Skin Health Begins with Better Diagnostics

The next-generation Auretek probe leverages a comprehensive skin bio-chemical database and advanced software analytics to deliver fast and accurate depth profiling of human skin non-invasively.

Auretek Arm Probe
Probe on arm

The Imperative for Improving Skin Disease Diagnostics

Skin conditions are increasing in prevalence among Singaporeans, fuelling a rising demand for dermatological treatment and services. It is estimated that 20 per cent of Singaporean children and 11 per cent of adults suffer from eczema. In 2017, the National Skin Centre saw more than 18,000 cases of eczema, making it the most common skin condition seen at the centre2.

While skin conditions are rarely life-threatening, they can weigh heavily on the patient's quality of life. Inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) and psoriasis can cause discomfort, pain, disrupted sleep, and frustration. Many patients suffer from chronic eczema, battling the disease for an entire lifetime.

Existing tools to analyse skin health are often elementary, and in most cases rely primarily on physical examination or verbal consultations. Conventional benchtop systems are expensive, bulky, and not suitable for use on all parts of the body.

"The SBIC research team gathered the unmet clinical need for skin inflammatory conditions through our collaboration with clinicians at National Skin Centre. We realised that for such skin disorders, the existing evaluation methods tend to be subjective and prone to inter and intra observer variations, or are difficult to use," explained Prof Malini Olivo, Director of Biophotonics, Head of the Laboratory of Bio-Optical Imaging, Singapore Bioimaging Consortium (SBIC) and Co-Executive Director of the Health and Medical Technologies Horizontal Technology Coordinating Office (HMT HTCO) at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).

A New, Point-Of-Care Skin Analyser

With the above pain-points in mind, SBIC has developed Auretek, a user-friendly hand-held device that can objectively and non-invasively analyse the bio-chemical composition of the patient’s skin at point-of-care and in real-time.

The technology developers, Dr Renzhe Bi and Dr Dinish U. S. from SBIC’s Laboratory of Bio-Optical Imaging, said, “We invented Auretek by employing our multi-disciplinary R&D experience in optical spectroscopy, fibre optics and artificial intelligence (AI). Auretek is a flexible hand-held probe that can achieve the same level of sensitivity and performance as conventional benchtop systems. Currently, Auretek is the only optical fibre-based dual-wavelength confocal Raman system with a flexible hand-held probe that provides depth profiling of human skin in vivo.”

Auretek patient

“Confocal Raman microscopy is based on the interaction of light with the chemical bonds of the skin. The skin sample is irradiated with a monochromatic light and the Raman spectrum (obtained from analysing the molecular vibrations created by the light's "impact") allows us to characterise the skin's chemical composition quickly and non-invasively,” they added.

Auretek offers the following features:

  • Depth profiling – Clinicians can objectively quantify the skin condition by measuring the skin’s bio-chemical composition (including ceremide, uracanic acid, water, and keratin) at different depths in vivo.
  • Artificial intelligence – By leveraging a comprehensive skin bio-chemical database and advanced software analytics, clinicians can gain pertinent insights on the skin’s condition and will be able to accurately diagnose and treat skin diseases.
  • Flexibility – The hand-held probe is flexible and can be used to non-invasively test any part of the skin, including the face, back and joints.
  • Ease-of-use – The system has passed several rounds of prototyping and clinical trials, which have proven it to be robust and clinician-friendly. Meticulously crafted by engineers, Auretek blends design and technology to offer a great user experience.
  • Cost-effective – Auretek offers superior cutting-edge technology at a fraction of the cost of existing devices.

Dermatological and Dermocosmetic Applications

By enabling fast and objective assessment of the patient’s skin condition, Auretek empowers dermatologists to accurately diagnose skin diseases, prescribe appropriate treatment, and monitor the patient’s progress and response to drugs. This creates possibilities for improved, hyperpersonalised patient care.

Additionally, Auretek has the potential to assist in the development and formulation of dermocosmetic products. For example, it can be used to test the skin’s response to active ingredients.

Based on feedback from dermatologists, the research team is working on further optimising and miniaturising the hand-held probe. The skin bio-chemical database and AI algorithm will also be further established and validated through clinical trials.

1 Source: Living with severe eczema: Lost sleep, blood on clothes, mental health struggles