Finding'BigFoot': UCLA researchers create and offer medical monitoring software free online
With just a computer and scanner, patients can closely track foot conditions
By Matthew Chin December 03, 2012 Category: Research
Internet users searching for "Bigfoot" are likely to turn up thousands of tales about sightings of a near-mythical apelike creature thought to inhabit the forests of the Pacific Northwest. But now, they'll also find something far less mysterious and more useful: Free software developed by UCLA researchers designed to help patients with potential foot problems.
A team from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science has created the innovative BigFoot medical monitoring software — which requires only a home computer and a simple flatbed scanner — to allow individuals with chronic foot ailments, like diabetes patients, to track and monitor their skin conditions on a regular basis at home.
The software package, which can be easily downloaded and used by the public and by medical professionals in clinical settings, utilizes a scanner as an image-capture device, with patients placing their feet directly on the scanner's surface. The software's custom-designed set of algorithms then manages and analyzes the acquired foot-image data.
"We wanted to create something easy and intuitive to use and understand," said Aydogan Ozcan, a UCLA associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering who led the team. "Once installed, the BigFoot software takes individuals through a simple step-by-step process to create detailed digital images of their feet and compare them against earlier images. If desired, selected regions of interest and their comparisons over time can be emailed to a doctor's office for professional comments. We feel this can be a great monitoring tool for patients suffering from diabetes and their doctors."
In addition to Ozcan, the BigFoot project team includes postdoctoral scholar Sam Mavandadi and graduate students Steve Feng, Frank Yu, Romain Caire, Vincent Philippe, Aytekin Cabuk and Richard Yu, all members of the Ozcan BioPhotonics Laboratory at UCLA. Ozcan is also a member of the UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI).
Ozcan will give a presentation on the BigFoot technology at the mHealth Summit conference in Washington, D.C., which runs from Dec. 3 to 5.
Various medical conditions, including diabetes, can manifest themselves as visible features on the human skin. Effective monitoring of these superficial features can be of utmost importance as an indirect, and sometimes direct, method of tracking the progression of the underlying medical condition.
Diabetes, especially in elderly individuals, can lead to significant visible damage on the surface of the skin, particularly the feet, and may potentially lead to ulcers. Yet patients are not always aware of the extent, or even the existence, of the damage. Many times, they find out about it only through visual inspections during a visit to a doctor's office or point-of-care clinic.
However, since such medical visits may not occur with sufficient frequency — something that is especially true in geographical settings where medical resources are limited — significant damage can go undetected and untreated for long periods. Severe cases can necessitate the amputation of the foot.
BigFoot scanning tutorial:
These issues highlighted the need for a cost-effective and easy-to-use method for the monitoring, tracking and sharing of the condition of the feet or other human appendages at home or in point-of-care offices, the researchers said.
Led by Ozcan, the BigFoot team developed this unique digital platform for personal and professional management and analysis of biomedical images, which can be captured using off-the-shelf, consumer-grade imaging devices such as flatbed scanners.
The BigFoot software application is part of a study by Ozcan's research group to gather and statistically analyze foot data. Images are automatically submitted to a server, and the UCLA Engineering researchers initially plan to determine what users define as regions of concern. They will draw further conclusions, from a statistical standpoint, on spatial, temporal and geographical points of interest in the collected data. The UCLA BioPhotonics Group is looking for widespread use of the BigFoot platform to facilitate better monitoring, tracking and sharing of medically relevant feet images by patients and medical professionals.
The Ozcan BioPhotonics Laboratory is funded by the the Office of Naval Research, the Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
For more information and to download and use the BigFoot software free of charge, visit http://bigfoot.ee.ucla.edu. For more information on the Ozcan BioPhotonics Research Group, visit http://innovate.ee.ucla.edu and http://biogames.ee.ucla.edu.
The UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, established in 1945, offers 28 academic and professional degree programs and has an enrollment of more than 5,000 students. The school's distinguished faculty are leading research to address many of the critical challenges of the 21st century, including renewable energy, clean water, health care, wireless sensing and networking, and cybersecurity. Ranked among the top 10 engineering schools at public universities nationwide, the school is home to nine multimillion-dollar interdisciplinary research centers in wireless sensor systems, wireless health, nanoelectronics, nanomedicine, renewable energy, customized computing, the smart grid, and the Internet, all funded by federal and private agencies and individual donors.