Improving quality of life with medical imaging

NPL conceived the idea of designing an artefact to provide a reliable reference, against which MRS thermometry measurements could be validated.

The need

Medical imaging is a general term applied to non-invasive techniques which can show a doctor the condition of an organ without surgery, for instance.


There are at least 3.3 million people with diabetes in the UK. They are each prone to serious ulcers in their feet (Diabetic Foot Ulceration, DFU), which can become infected and lead to amputation. Besides the adverse effect on patients, it has been estimated that DFU and related complications currently cost the NHS around £1 billion per year. Detection of potential ulcer sites on the foot is therefore critical for enabling doctors to intervene to protect the foot.

Brain diseases

Techniques such as Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) are affected by temperature changes. It is crucial to relate the resonance measurement with a reliable and traceable temperature.

This work is part of a NHS NIHR project.

The impact


NPL’s world-leading expertise in thermal imaging measurement has led to a breakthrough medical imaging device, called DFIRST, which generates temperature maps, thermography, of patients’ feet, to provide early alerts of potential problems. Such early detection would give more than a week’s extra time to take preventative action, reducing or even eliminating the ulceration and associated risk of infection.

The research is the outcome of a £1.2 million project funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Invention for Innovation (i4i) programme. Since the project’s inception we’ve gone on to conduct clinical trials. Development is ongoing to ensure that the device has been tested against rigorous standards, ensuring it is as trustworthy as possible.

Brain diseases

NPL conceived the idea of designing an artefact to provide a reliable reference, against which MRS thermometry measurements could be validated.

NPL have provided artefacts, and training, such that proof-of-concept studies could be performed. The concept has now been proven, and these artefacts now provide temperature traceability to the International Temperature Scale of 1990. They are world-first and have the power to make diagnostic conclusions from this technique a reliable and repeatable process.


Read more about thermal imaging.

Saving lives through early foot ulcer detection