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THE INVISIBLE MAN; Scientists discover how to make skin see-through.

SCIENTISTS have entered the realm of science fiction by discovering a way of making human skin invisible.

The astonishing breakthrough could revolutionise surgery by allowing doctors to see inside their patients.

And it means the old sci-fi idea of an invisible man - featured in the new movie The Hollow Man - could soon become a reality.

The breakthrough was made by a team at the University of Texas who managed to manipulate the way light passes through tissue.

The scientists have already made tiny bits of flesh transparent for more than 20 minutes but so far only on rats and hamsters.

However, they believe the process can be used on humans and are confident it will have great benefits.

Dr Ashley Welch, a professor of biomedical engineering and head of the project, said: "When we injected glycerol into the skin of a hamster, we could actually see a blood vessel which had not been visible.

"In effect, we can create a window of tissue, allowing doctors to see up to five times deeper than they can at present.

"Although it has not yet been tested on human skin, the process could have wide applications for medical diagnosis and new therapies."

It is hoped doctors would be able to use the process to locate tumours or pinpoint trouble spots for laser treatment.

The researchers made their discovery using injections of glycerol into the tissue of the animal.

Glycerol is hygroscopic alcohol - which means it pulls water out of tissue.

Tiny water particles in the skin refract and scatter light but by taking away the water, it means the skin tissue no longer scatters light as it passes through.

Dr Welch said the optical process could be compared to searching for an object obscured by a dense fog.

When a searchlight is directed at the fog, the light is scattered in all directions. The amount of light scattered depends on the size of the water droplets.

Just as each water droplet in the fog scatters light, so small components of skin tissue also scatter light. Dr Welch said: "This scattering prevents us from seeing blood vessels near the surface of the skin because none of the light passes directly through the skin to reflect from the blood vessel back to our eyes. It is all scattered, destroying the image."

Glycerol can briefly change the degree of scattering through small areas of tissue.

Glycerol shrinks tissue by taking out water. When glycerol is added to cells, it causes water to flow from the cell.

Over time, the process reverses and water begins to enter the cell again.

The university has applied for a patent for the process and now researchers say the next step will be to study various other agents, which may have similar effects on tissue, looking for the safest ones to use.

In the new film The Hollow Man, a group of scientists working for the government try to find a way to make a person invisible.

The problem they have run into is bringing that person back to the visual spectrum so they can be seen again.

One scientist volunteers to made invisible but can't be brought back to the visual world.

He then goes mad and goes on a killing spree trying to get rid of all the people who know about the experiment.
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Author:Richardson, Pete
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 30, 2000
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