Friday, 31 Oct, 2008 Science
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Scientist Developed Software to Accurately Count Hairs

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Scientists from Sydney-based CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences developed a software program that can analyze the number of hairs there are in a patch of skin. The program is expected to help Australian researchers in testing just how effective different baldness treatments and depilatory creams are. The research and its results will be published in the November issue of the journal called Skin Research and Technology.

The Australian researchers created the program in collaboration with a British company. They said that with the new software it would be easier to develop hair removal creams by analyzing their effectiveness.

According to Dr Pascal Vallotton, an image analyst, previously scientists counted the hairs that survived after the hair removal creams manually. Such task was very difficult since a person could count a hair twice or miss it, ABC News reports.

"Image analysis offers distinct advantages because you always get the same counts and you get the right counts," said image analyst Dr Pascal Vallotton.

It is worth mentioning that the newly developed software relies on pictures that were captured by a small flatbed scanner pressed onto the skin. By applying a mathematical algorithm, the program maps out each hair according to its individual features, such as, for example, straightness.

Scientists developed the software in a way so it could make a distinction between hair and other features on the skin, including wrinkles, moles and small wounds.

Vallotton said that it is possible to say whether hair is growing quickly on slowly by comparing earlier and later images. In order to analyze the accuracy of their software, scientist asked help from their colleagues from neighboring laboratories. Researchers manually counted the hair on the skins of volunteers.

"We had twelve volunteers, mostly from neighboring labs, and we acquired images of hair before and after [treatment]," said the lead researcher.

After manually counting and marking each hair, scientist found that the results of the software were similar to those of the manual count. According to the lead researcher, the software may be used to test balding treatments or identifying substances besides hairs, which could be hard to image. For instance, the software could be used to identify how many neurons are in a cell sample.

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