Bad news for biopsies: Using high resolution images to detect cancer

A device that can detect skin cancer without requiring doctors to take biopsies.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

Researchers at the University of Rochester might change the way skin cancer is currently diagnosed. Instead of taking biopsies, scientists might be able to use a device that can take high resolution images under the skin to detect skin cancer.

Imagine this scenario: A doctor comes into the room and instead of scrapping off bits of the suspicious area, he puts a device (like the one in the picture) on a patient's skin, and it instantly shows a three-dimensional image of what the tissue structure is like below the surface of the skin.

Jannick Rolland, an optics professor at the University of Rochester, said in a statement:

"When a patient walks into a clinic with a suspicious mole, for instance, they wouldn't have to have it necessarily surgically cut out of their skin or be forced to have a costly and time-consuming MRI done. Instead, a relatively small, portable device could take an image that will assist in the classification of the lesion right in the doctor's office."

The devices uses a liquid lens to examine the skin tissue structures as deep as 1 millimeter beneath the skin's surface. It uses near infrared light to get high resolution images. Sharp pictures are good and all, but can the device tell the difference between the types of lesions? Not yet...Rolland is working on improving the prototype so it can detect the differences.

Not the only ones

Researchers at Michigan State University have another method of looking for cancer. The Michigan researchers are using laser technology to deliver short pulses, and it is these pulses that can detect molecules in the tissue.

The method is highly selective, and the laser light can excite certain compounds and reveal their unique vibrations. For instance, it can map cholesterol when lipid is around. The researchers think the method could help pharmaceutical companies understand how a drug penetrates tissue. Seeing how drugs reacts with the skin would help bring drugs to market more quickly and reveal any possible side effects the drugs might have.

In the future, biopsies might be replaced with less invasive methods, especially in cases when imaging the tissue can reveal much more.

Photo: J. Adam Fenster

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