Test your cholesterol with a simple photo

Indian researchers claim to have developed a non-invasive way to test cholesterol levels in people with increased risk of heart disease using a photo of the back of the patient's hand.

Researchers in India claim to have developed a total cholesterol test that uses a digital camera to take a snapshot of the back of the patient'shand rather than an invasive blood sample. The image obtained is cropped and compared with images in a database for known cholesterol levels.

Writing in the International Journal of Medical Engineering and Informatics, researcher N R Shanker of the Sree Sastha Institute of Engineering and Technology, Chennai, and colleagues describe how they have developed a non-invasive way to test cholesterol levels in patients with increased risk of heart disease. The researchers' approach is actually based on the creation of a large database of cholesterol levels recorded using standard blood tests and linked to a standardised photograph of the hand for each patient.

According to the Chennai-based researchers, the cholesterol is concentrated in the creases of the persons fingers. The team also developed an image-processing computer-based program that compares the image from a new patient with the thousands of the existing entries in the database and matches it to a specific cholesterol reading.

Measuring the amount and type of cholesterol circulating in the blood is an important risk factor in cardiovascular disease. Previous research has shown that excess cholesterol not used by the body in making hormones and building cells is laid down on the inner wall of arteries as a waxy plaque, which can reduce the normal flow of blood, potentially causing serious heart problems and even increasing the risk of cerebral stroke.

The total cholesterol test devised by the researchers is a useful early indicator, although more detailed testing that distinguishes between the HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and triglycerides are needed for a more accurate health assessment of the patients that were found to have high total cholesterol. It is low-density lipoprotein, so-called "bad" cholesterol that contributes to the formation of artery chocking plaques also known as atherosclerosis.

The presence of different total levels of cholesterol can be revealed through image analysis of the skin.

A simple non-invasive and inexpensive method for cholesterol screening would allow this risk factor to be determined in a much larger patient population without the need for costly and inconvenient blood tests that many patients already fear, the Chennai-based researchers mentioned in the release.

The team will soon also publish the details of the extension of this work to classifying cholesterol type using their approach.



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