25 Feb 2021

In a new project at DTU Health Tech, Associate Professor Edwin En-Te Hwu will develop a new instrument to diagnose for example eczema in babies by assessing skin barrier function.

One of the trademarks of Associate Professor Edwin En-Te Hwu’s work is hacking of consumer electronics for scientific research. Edwin comments: “Standing on the shoulders of giants – in this case hacking consumer product – speeds up the development. Core components needed in one field might already be well developed and mass produced in another field. And it is fun to find out what we can use, and build from there.”

This concept is well explained by innovators, who have hacked consumer goods such as cars, scuba gear and gardening tools into ventilators to rapidly develop equipment to fight COVID-19.

Edwin En Te Hwu plans to repurpose the Blue-ray optical pick-up unit from a PlayStation 4 to develop a new instrument called Dermatological Atomic Force Microscope (DAFM) to assess skin barrier function, which in eczema patients is dysfunctional.

The idea is to assess skin samples at the nanoscale with the DAFM, which makes it possible to estimate the risk of newborn babies developing infantile eczema. Then preventive measures can be taken before it becomes uncomfortable and painful for the baby. The DAFM could also be beneficial for patients with severe eczema for continuously monitoring the effect of therapy.

The LEO Foundation has funded the project with DKK 2.8m. The project will run for two years from March 2021.

Faster, cheaper and easier to use

The new DAFM technology will make access to expensive infrastructure such as advanced microscopes, which are usually necessary when you want to analyze a sample on the nanoscale, redundant. It represents a new way of assessing skin barrier function by measuring nanoscale anatomy (nanotexture). Another advantage of the proposed method is that the sample is simply collected with a piece of tape, where the patient’s skin cells stick to. The measured data will be analyzed by an artificial intelligence algorithm to quantify the nanotexture. The patients will get the skin assessment result on site in less than 10 minutes, which is at least 50 times faster than traditional methods that are both slower and more expensive.

Collaboration with hospitals and doctors is very important to ensure a high quality of the technology as well as preparing the instrument for clinical use.

The project will be coordinated by DTU Health Tech and include collaborators from a German institute, as well as Danish, Dutch and Taiwanese hospitals.

Apply for research grants

Researchers who would like to apply for a LEO Foundation research grant can apply here. Next application deadline is 5 March 2021.

The competition is open to talented researchers at any level of seniority from any country. The typical grant amount applied for is DKK 2-4 million for a period of 1-3 years.