Sign Up for Fundamentals

Stay up-to-date with the latest research findings from the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences.

Please enter a valid email address.
Fundamentals Topics+

Jody Tversky on a New Method to Analyze Skin Testing for Allergies

Profiles

More Profiles

Jody Tversky on a New Method to Analyze Skin Testing for Allergies

Interviewed by Lauren Nelson

Jody Tversky on a New Method to Analyze Skin Testing for Allergies

Jody Tversky, MD is Assistant Professor and former Clinical Director of the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Here he discusses what scotch tape and drones have to do with allergy testing.

How did you get into this research?

Tversky: When I was a resident at the University of Connecticut in the early 2000s, I did a rotation with the allergy department there, where I realized that the ways we test for allergies for last 140 years is largely unchanged. 
 
Whether it's a child with food allergies or someone with asthma who is in and out of the Emergency Department, we diagnose the same way, through skin testing. I noticed that while skin testing can be very accurate and make a life-changing diagnosis for a patient who learns that they can no longer eat a certain food or take a certain type of drug for the rest of their lives, the technique itself can very crude and tedious. It involves hand measurements that can be painstakingly difficult for staff to do and have poor reproducibility among centers. 
 
The current standard for research involves marking skin with a pen and using scotch tape to transfer the marks to paper and scan them in. We were spending millions of dollars on studies that came down to scotch tape, and I felt that something wasn’t right! I looked over the literature and realized people have tried to fix this problem for years using computer algorithms, etc., but none of them worked. I knew there had to be a better way.
 

How did you solve the problem?

Tversky: We had toyed with the idea of using infrared technology but hadn’t figured out how to make it work. It wasn’t until we got in touch with a defense contractor, several years after coming up with the idea, that we realized that one of the imaging technologies that was used in drones may help delineate certain physiological changes that we could use for accurate and precise measurement of allergic response to skin testing. The technology wasn’t publically available in the world until four or five years ago. We tested it on skin and had our Eureka! Moment. It only took one picture to know we’d hit the jackpot.
  Infrared image of skin test Infrared image of skin testing.

 

Using this newly accessible technology I, along with my colleague Donald MacGlashan, invented and patented a new imaging machine that automatically analyzes allergy skin testing. It helps diagnose people with different types of allergies and is especially useful for African Americans or others who have a difficult time getting their results interpreted due to darker skin pigment. The automated design will allow for reliable allergy testing results to be integrated into modern electronic medical records and for telemedicine applications. We’re currently doing clinical trials using this technology here at Johns Hopkins.
 

What’s next?

Tversky: Skin testing for allergies involves a lot of steps, from placing, to reading, to saving results, to interpreting results and our group is currently only working on the reading and storing data parts of the process. 
 
A team of biotech students here at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine came across what our team was doing and wanted to work on diagnosing drug allergies in the Emergency Department more quickly and reliably. They have been working out a system to automatically place skin tests, an approach that will pair well with our automated reading.
 
Conceivably you could put one of these devices in a drugstore deep in the center of the country where the nearest allergist is 100-plus miles away, have the patient do the test there and we could read it here in Baltimore. This is a game-changer for volume, too, and for studies, really moving the needle in terms of our being able to read results more quickly and accurately.
 
Eventually this technology could be applied to skin prick and intradermal allergy testing, tuberculin testing, patch testing, skin cancer screening, the evaluation of urticaria and any other skin disorders with physiological changes in skin.
 

Tell us about your life outside of the office.

Tversky: I enjoy spending time with my two little children (ages 6 and 7) and in my garden at my little farmhouse out in West Friendship. I love being outdoors and travelling, and messing around on the drums.
  Tversky and his two children. Tversky and his two children.

 

I was born just outside Manhattan in Paterson, New Jersey, and have lived in many places but being a non-native to Baltimore I can tell you this is one of the most special places in the world.