Tetra-polar electrical impedance measurement (TPIM) with a square geometry of electrodes is useful in the characterization of epithelial tissues, especially in the detection of cervical cancer at precancerous stages. However, in TPIM, the peak planar sensitivity just below the electrode surface is almost zero and increases to a peak value at a depth of about one third to one half of the electrode separation. To get high sensitivity for the epithelial layer, having thicknesses of 200 μm to 300 μm, the electrode separation needed is less than 1 mm, which is difficult to achieve in practical probes. This work proposes a conical conducting layer in front of a pencil like probe with a square geometry of TPIM electrodes to create virtual electrodes with much smaller separation at the body surface, thus increasing the sensitivity of the epithelial tissues. To understand the improvements, if any, 3D sensitivity distribution and transfer impedance were simulated using COMSOL Multiphysics software for a simplified body tissue model containing a 300 μm epithelial layer. It has been shown that fractional contribution of an epithelial layer can be increased several times placing a cylindrical conducting layer in between the tissue surface and the electrodes, which can further be enhanced using a conical conducting layer. The results presented in this paper can be used to choose an appropriate electrode separation, conducting layer height and cone parameters for enhanced sensitivity in the epithelial layer.
- Epithelial tissue
- virtual electrode
- Impedance probe
- conducting layer
Recent studies demonstrated that there is a great potential of using Electrical impedance spectroscopy (EIS)  in the characterization of epithelial tissues. EIS has been successful in the detection of cervical cancer in the preliminary stages [2, 3, 4]. Electrical impedance measurement techniques have also been useful in the study of many other epithelial tissues including oral mucosa [5, 6], esophagus [7,8], skin cancer  and skin hydration status .
For these studies, tetra-polar electrical impedance measurement (TPIM) technique is the usual choice as it can eliminate skin contact impedance. In TPIM, for a square geometry of electrodes as shown in figure 1, an alternating current
where JAB and JCD are the current density vectors at the point
The total transfer impedance is given by the volume integral of
For the study of sensitivity at epithelial layers it is useful to analyze the contribution of whole planes in 2D. For any plane passing through point
To get around this problem this paper describes a novel idea of using a conical conducting layer in front of a pencil like electrode probe to reduce the effective electrode separation at the surface of the human tissue, giving rise to a new concept of ‘virtual electrodes’. Here the outside of the conducting layer is bound unlike the almost infinite extension in 2D used in the above work. In this work, FEM simulation using COMSOL has been used to study the resulting improvements, if any.
The concept is explained with the help of figure 2.
The figure on the left represents the interposing conducting gel layer, as proposed by reference 18, between the body tissue and the electrode pair
In this study the impedance sensitivity distribution for Tetrapolar electrical impedance measurements on a biological volume for a square geometry of electrodes as shown in figure 1 was simulated using a finite element method (FEM) based software, COMSOL Multiphysics®. A cube of edge length 50mm was modeled as a volume conductor representing body tissue as shown in figure 3.
The electrical conductivity (σ) and relative permittivity (ɛr) of the volume conductor were assigned the values of 0.53699 S/m and 17594 respectively, same as for human cervical tissue at 10 kHz . Cylindrical electrodes of 1 mm diameter and 1 mm height were placed on a surface (
For calculating 3D sensitivity distribution within the volume conductor, a current of unit amplitude (= 1 A) was introduced through the electrode pair
The governing equations for the FEM computations are,
Boundary conditions were set so that the current density on the outer boundary of the volume conductor is zero whereas the boundaries between internal domains satisfy continuity. The meshing tool in COMSOL Multiphysics was used to generate 3D mesh grid in the geometric model. Software controlled
Although the main motivation of the present work was to study the effect of a conical interposed conducting layer, a cylindrical shape was first studied in order to have an understanding of the new concept. A cylindrical object of 4 mm diameter and 0.4 mm height was interposed between the four electrodes and the body volume as shown in figure 4. The conductivity and permittivity of the conducting layer were taken to be the same as that of the body tissue (human cervix). The distribution of impedance sensitivity within the body volume was computed following equation 2 for different heights of the conducting layer.
The total transferred impedance of the modeled tissues (body tissue+epithelial layer+conducting layer) was computed as :
where the integration is over the whole volume Vt of the tissue and the interposing layer.
Similarly, the contribution of the assumed 300 μm epithelial layer to the transferred impedance was computed as:
where the integration is over the volume of the epithelial layer, Vet only.
The fractional contribution of the epithelial layer to the total transfer impedance was defined as
A higher value of fractional impedance indicates a higher effective sensitivity of the epithelial layer and is desired for impedance measurements of epithelial layer minimizing contribution from the remaining tissues.
Subsequently, the study was repeated for different conical shapes and thicknesses of the interposing conducting layer, as shown in figure 5, to determine which parameters give the most contribution from the epithelial layer in the total transferred impedance. If the radius of the conducting layer surface touching the electrodes is
From a practical point of view, a conical conducting layer has the advantage that it can be made of conducting rubber and inserted inside a detachable attachment, to be slipped over the tip of a pencil like probe having permanent electrodes. Thus, it can be made as a low cost disposable tip eliminating cross infection while taking measurements on different persons. In such a device, a rubber layer of thickness of about one mm would be suitable for handling. Therefore, the maximum fractional contribution of a 300 μm epithelial layer was studied for a fixed conducting layer thickness of 1.2 mm, but for different electrode separations and varying radii ratio.
The conducted research is not related to either human or animal use
Figure 6 shows the average sensitivity values over planes parallel to the electrode plane within the 50 mm cubic volume conductor for a cylindrical conducting layer of 4 mm diameter (as shown in figure 4). Here depth indicates the distance of a plane of interest from the surface of the tissue and the interposing conducting layer is referred to as a ‘bolus’. Depth zero indicates the body surface with or without an interposing conducting layer (or bolus). The edge-to-edge electrode separation was 1 mm (center to center electrode separation: 2 mm). The depths of the planes were taken in steps of 0.1 mm; there were 250000 values in each plane. Average sensitivity over a plane was then calculated by dividing the sum of sensitivity values at all points in that plane divided by the number of points.
Figure 7 shows the variation of fractional impedance of the epithelial layer against conducting layer height for an edge-to-edge electrode separation of 1 mm (center to center: 2 mm). It has a maximum at a conducting layer height of 0.4 mm.
Figure 8 shows the variation of fractional impedance of the epithelial layer against radii ratio of the conical conducting layer for different heights of the conducting layer (bolus height). In this case, the electrode separation was 1 mm (edge-edge) and the diameter of the side of the conical conducting layer touching the electrodes was kept constant at 4 mm. Figure 9 shows similar curves but for a larger separation between the electrodes. In this case the diameter of the conical conducting layer surface touching the electrodes was 6 mm and the edge-to-edge electrode separation was 2 mm (center-to-center: 3 mm).
Finally, figure 10 shows the variation of fractional impedance of the epithelial layer with conical bolus radii ratio for different electrode separation (edge to edge) while the bolus height was kept constant at 1.2 mm.
The proposal for a conical interposing layer is novel and was proposed based on an intuitive visualization as shown in figure 2. It has been borne out through the simulations carried out in the present work. The concept of virtual electrodes is again a new one and may have wider applications.
Coming to the results obtained in the present work, it can be observed from figure 6 that without any conducting layer, the fractional impedance of the epithelial layer of thickness 300 μm is only 12% of the total impedance. However, fractional impedance of the epithelial layer can be increased to about 30% using a cylindrical conducting layer of 0.4 mm height for an edge-to-edge electrode separation of 1 mm. An optimum height of conducting layer for enhanced sensitivity in the epithelial layer may be chosen based on the electrode separation.
It can also be observed from figure 6 that the average sensitivity is almost zero at the surface of the volume conductor without any conducting layer (no bolus), which agrees with previous studies . The planar average sensitivity increases with depth, reaches a maximum and then decreases again gradually at higher depths. The peak sensitivity occurs at about 0.5 mm, which is half the edge to edge electrode separation and one fourth of the centre to centre separation, which also agrees approximately with the findings of other workers [12, 15]. For increasing height of conducting layer (bolus height), the average sensitivity at the surface of the volume conductor (depth = 0) increases because of a shift of the low sensitivity region into the interposing conducting layer. It is evident from figure 6 that the depth of the peak sensitivity shifts towards the surface of the volume conductor with increasing height of conducting layer, as expected. However, the average impedance sensitivity near the surface increases with increasing conducting layer height initially but decreases after a certain height of the conducting layer. This indicates that there is an optimum height of the conducting layer for which the sensitivity just below the surface (epithelial layer) is maximum, which is about 0.7 mm in this case. From an intuitive standpoint, this should not have been the case for an interposing conducting layer with infinite extension, as used by reference 18. In this case, the differences would be only through a leftward shift of the curve (for which the conducting layer thickness is zero); the sensitivity at the surface of the body tissue would be decreasing monotonically.
Therefore, it is obvious that the observed changes are because of the finite and bounded conducting layer which confines the current paths. Once the current paths reach the large body volume, these spread out afresh, as if the current is originating from electrodes with a much smaller separation at the surface. This gives rise to the concept of ‘virtual electrodes’ as shown in figure 2. Again in figure 6, for a bolus height of 1.2 mm, there is a sudden drop with depth compared to that for a bolus height of 0.9 mm. This may be explained from a perspective of current line distributions shown in figure 2. For a bolus height of 1.2 mm, most of the current lines are concentrated within the interposing layer, very little goes into the body tissue underneath, which is not the case for the lower values of bolus heights. This also points out that if one wants to study the first 50 μm or so of the epithelial layer, such a configuration may be useful where the volume below contributes very little.
Figure 7 indicates that the fractional contribution of the simulated 300 μm epithelial layer increases with increasing height of conducting layer, reaches a maximum and then falls gradually. In the present case, for an edge to edge electrode separation of 1 mm, the optimum height of conducting layer for which the contribution of the epithelial tissue to the total impedance is maximum (about 30%) is found to be 0.4 mm. This result is a consequence of the phenomena observed in figure 6. It should be noted that the optimum height of the conducting layer will depend on the electrode separation.
Figure 8 relates to conical conducting layers, the main proposition that this work started off with. Here a radii ratio of 1 corresponds to the cylindrical conducting layer discussed above and the radii ratio decreases for the conical configuration under study in the present work. It can be seen that for any fixed thickness of the conducting layer, as the radii ratio decreases from unity, corresponding to increased angle of the cone, the fractional contribution of the epithelial layer increases, supporting the intuitive proposition of this work that the separation of the ‘virtual electrodes’ decreases with increasing angle of cone. However, below a certain value of radii ratio the fractional contribution decreases. This may be due to too steep cone angles so that most of the current is confined to interposing conducting layer rather than the body volume.
Figure 8 shows that the 300 μm epithelial layer contributes to about 50% of the measured impedance for a conducting layer height of 0.2 mm (200 μm) corresponding to a radii ratio of a little over 0.5, which is the maximum among those studied in this work. This is relevant to a conical conducting layer with a diameter of 4 mm at the electrode surface and a little over 2 mm at the body surface, for a height of 0.2 mm. The edge to edge electrode separation is 1 mm (centre to centre: 2 mm) in this case. The peak contribution of the 300 μm epithelial layer for a larger electrode separation (edge to edge: 2 mm, centre to centre: 3 mm) is slightly less as shown in figure 9. This corresponds to a conical conducting layer with a diameter of 6 mm at the electrode surface and about 3.5 mm at the body surface, for a height of 0.3 mm. The peak contribution is a little less than 40%. In figure 8, for the same height (0.3 mm) the peak value was about 45%, slightly more.
The cone shapes with radii ratio of about 0.5 and heights of 0.2 to 0.3 mm as required by the results of the present study may sometime be difficult to configure with accuracy. A layer height of about 1 mm could be handled better, particularly if using conducting rubber as mentioned before. Figure 10 shows that for a layer height of 1.2 mm, the maximum contribution of the 300 μm epithelial layer is rather less, at about 20%, and which can be achieved for any electrode separation between 3 mm and 6 mm for radii ratio between 0.7 and 0.9. Although the contribution is reduced, this arrangement could be achieved easily in a more practical device.
The fractional impedance of the epithelial layer was computed considering a thickness of 300 μm. The fractional impedance values need to be interpreted with care for other thickness of epithelial layers under consideration. It should also be noted that the fractional impedance values will be different if the dielectric properties of the conducting layer material are different than that of the tissue under investigation (cervical tissue in the current study).
In conclusion, to overcome the problem of very low impedance sensitivity at epithelial layer with a practically implementable tetra-polar impedance probe, the utility of a conical conducting layer for enhancement of impedance sensitivity in epithelial tissues has been proposed that is easily implementable as a pencil like probe. The results presented in this paper can be used to choose an appropriate electrode separation, conducting layer height and conducting layer radii ratio for enhanced sensitivity in the epithelial layer.
Although reference 18 used a conducting gel as the interposing layer, it could be any suitable material. A conducting rubber would be preferred for the conical system as this could be handled better in a practical probe, may be with a thin layer of conducting gel on both sides. Thus it could form part of a disposable tip, slipping over a pencil like probe with permanent electrodes. This would be hygienic and cost effective eliminating the chances of cross infection while measuring multiple patients using the same probe.