In brief

The study showed that optoacoustic mesoscopy can provide valuable insights for managing atopic dermatitis by measuring subtle changes in oxygen levels and skin thickness under the skin.

© Unsplash

Listening out for inflammation

22 Nov 2023

A non-invasive diagnostic method that uses light and sound can help clinicians assess and track patients with a chronic inflammatory skin condition.

It’s an itchy skin condition whose name bears Greek origins. Eczema, or atopic dermatitis (AD), comes from the word ‘ekzein,’ which means ‘to boil over’, a reflection of the fiery inflammation and intense discomfort associated with this dermatological condition.

Despite the availability of topical medications to soothe these symptoms, it can be tough for dermatologists to chart the optimal course of treatment for each AD patient.

“Current assessment methods are mainly subjective and depend on symptoms self-reported by patients in questionnaires,” explained Dinish U.S, a Group Leader and Principal Scientist at the Translational Biophotonics Lab led by Malini Olivo, who is a Distinguished Principal Scientist at A*STAR Skin Research Labs (A*SRL).

“There is a lack of clear, objective methods to monitor the disease’s severity and efficacy of a particular treatment, so clinicians face shortcomings in properly adjusting the dosage of treatment,” said Dinish.

In collaboration with the National Skin Centre, Singapore, the researchers embarked on a mission to develop new non-invasive imaging methods to better track the status and progression of AD.

The team employed a technology called multispectral raster-scanning optoacoustic mesoscopy (ms-RSOM), which uses light and sound to painlessly extract valuable clinical insights from beneath the surface of the skin. The technique sends out short bursts of harmless lasers which penetrate the outer layer of skin. When the lasers contact dermal structures such as blood vessels, they emit faint sound waves, which the sensitive ms-RSOM sensors detect.

These then feed clinicians with detailed insights on the patient’s oxygen saturation levels and skin thickness, which they can leverage to properly manage treatment strategies. “By measuring oxygen saturation, information on the degree of inflammation can be quantified objectively,” said Olivo.

The researchers validated the technology in a cohort of 16 patients with either mild, moderate or severe AD alongside conventional diagnostic methods. Their analyses revealed that oxygen levels, skin thickness and blood volume increased with the severity of AD. Promisingly, these measurements matched with traditional methods like trans-epidermal water loss and erythrosine sedimentation rate.

Olivo, Dinish and colleagues also reported successfully using ms-RSOM to track the progress of a severe AD patient before and after treatment with steroids and cyclosporine where they observed marked improvements in oxygen levels and skin thickness.

Based on these findings, the group sees a bright future for ms-RSOM being used routinely in clinical settings to help assess AD severity and monitor treatment effectiveness. “We also believe that this study can open up new avenues for understanding inflammatory skin conditions and also for the formulation of new effective therapies,” said Dinish.

The A*STAR-affiliated researchers contributing to this research are from the A*STAR Skin Research Labs (A*SRL).

Want to stay up to date with breakthroughs from A*STAR? Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn!


Li, X., Moothanchery, M., Kwa, C.Y., Tan, W.L., Yew, Y.W., et al. Multispectral raster-scanning optoacoustic mesoscopy differentiate lesional from non-lesional atopic dermatitis skin using structural and functional imaging markers. Photoacoustics 28, 10039 (2022). | article

About the Researchers

View articles

Dinish U.S

Group Leader, Translational Biophotonics Laboratory (TBL)

A*STAR Skin Research Labs (A*SRL)
Dinish U.S is the Group Leader in Translational Biophotonics Laboratory at A*STAR Skin Research Labs (A*SRL). He also holds a joint adjunct faculty position at the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (SPMS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. He has extensive expertise in various preclinical and clinical studies using Photoacoustic imaging (PAI), diffuse reflectance spectroscopy (DRS), Raman spectroscopy, surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS), fluorescence imaging and multimodal imaging approaches. Notably, Dinish has been actively involved in pioneering ‘first in human’ clinical studies that employ PAI for diagnosing skin cancer and inflammatory conditions. He is the PI and Co-PI of numerous national and international research grants. He is currently the editorial board member of ‘Scientific Reports’ (Nature Publishing Group).
View articles

Malini Olivo

Distinguished Principal Scientist

A*STAR Skin Research Labs (A*SRL)
Malini Olivo is a Distinguished Principal Scientist at A*STAR Skin Research Labs (A*SRL) where she leads the Translational Biophotonics Laboratory. Concurrently, she is also an Adjunct Professor at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, NTU; Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, National University Health System, NUS, Singapore; and Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, Dublin, Ireland. She obtained a PhD degree in Bio-Medical Physics in 1990 from University Malaya/University College London (UCL) and did her post-doctoral training between 1991 and 1995 at UCL, UK and both McMaster University and University of Toronto, Canada. Her current research interest is in medtech and nano-biophotonics and its applications in translational medicine. Her efforts include bridging the gap between cutting edge optical technologies and unmet clinical needs by developing in-house photonics-based devices for various industries. She has succeeded in obtaining competitive research funding of over USD 25 million to support her research in Singapore and overseas. She has published over 500 papers, three books and 20 book chapters, and filed close to 50 patents on technology platforms and devices. She is also the co- founder of three medtech companies. Furthermore, she holds many advisory international roles and is well recognised internationally for her research in biophotonics for her pioneering research contributions. She has conferred as the Fellow of Optical Society of America (OSA), Fellow of American Institute of Medical Bioengineering (AIMBE) and Fellow of Institute of Physics, UK.

This article was made for A*STAR Research by Wildtype Media Group