JUL 28, 2020 6:23 AM PDT

Cancer Diagnostics Go Skin Deep

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

The average adult human has between 16 and 22 square feet of skin. This multifaceted organ serves a multitude of functions: from protecting our bodies against invaders and regulating body temperature to detecting sensations. Skin is particularly susceptible to developing cancer as a result of exposure to environmental carcinogens, such as ultraviolet radiation.

Identifying the signs of possible cancerous lesions on the surface of the skin is a particularly challenging task for dermatologists. In many cases, it can be difficult to distinguish a harmless mole from a dangerous melanoma. As a result, even highly skilled physicians with years of experience rely on invasive skin biopsies as part of their diagnostic procedures.

An imaging breakthrough, developed by bioelectromagnetics experts at the Stevens Institute of Technology, has the potential to allow dermatologists to rapidly and accurately catch skin cancer early without the need for invasive procedures. This work was published in IEEE Transactions on Medical Imaging,

In the U.S., almost 10,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer daily, with more than two dying of the disease every hour. This project, spearheaded by Principle Investigator Negar Tavassolian, together with their postdoctoral fellow Amir Mirbeik-Sabzevari, has the potential of revolutionizing skin cancer diagnostics. The scientists estimate that as a result of this development, the number of unnecessary biopsies could be halved. “This could be transformative,” said Mirbeik-Sabzevari, adding, “No other technology has these capabilities.”

Skin is composed of three primary layers, namely the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis. Tavassolian’s imaging system uses waves of between 30 and 300 GHz frequencies, which can penetrate to skin depths of up to 1.3 millimeters. This enables dermatologists to “see” what’s happening in the deeper layers of skin, looking for characteristic telltale changes associated with cancerous lesions.

The team studied over 20 skin cancer samples, including basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas from patients. With millimeter-wave imaging, they were able to obtain high resolution, 3-dimensional images of the skin, and easily identify cancer “hotspots” based on the reflectivity of the tissue. Cancer cells were much more reflective than normal, healthy tissue.

According to Tavassolian, their innovation has life-saving potential by allowing doctors to detect the early warning signs of cancer development quickly and easily. “That’s a major step forward toward our ultimate goal of developing a handheld device, which would be safe to use directly on the skin for an almost instant diagnostic reading of specific kinds of skin cancer – including lethal melanomas – based on their individual reflectivity signatures.”

 

 

Sources: Physics World, IEEE Explore.


 

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
You May Also Like
MAY 23, 2020
Microbiology
The FDA Yanks Some COVID-19 Antibody Tests From the Market
MAY 23, 2020
The FDA Yanks Some COVID-19 Antibody Tests From the Market
The massive demand for diagnostic testing led the FDA to open a short window for many testing products to go to market w ...
JUL 13, 2020
Neuroscience
Can COVID-19 Be Diagnosed by Vocal Patterns?
JUL 13, 2020
Can COVID-19 Be Diagnosed by Vocal Patterns?
Researchers from the Lincoln Laboratory have found early evidence that subtle changes in peoples' voices may indicat ...
JUL 22, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Unmasking the Secrets of the Substantia Nigra to Diagnose Parkinson's
JUL 22, 2020
Unmasking the Secrets of the Substantia Nigra to Diagnose Parkinson's
Parkinson’s disease is a devastating condition whereby neurons in a specific region of the brain that controls mov ...
JUL 25, 2020
Cardiology
Neurofibromatosis and How It Affects Heart Health
JUL 25, 2020
Neurofibromatosis and How It Affects Heart Health
Genetic diseases are persistent and often cause minor issues that can develop into more prominent problems later. Take n ...
AUG 08, 2020
Cardiology
Identifying Connections Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Cardiovascular Health
AUG 08, 2020
Identifying Connections Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Cardiovascular Health
Most people recognize rheumatoid arthritis as a disease that weakens the joints. It is actually an autoimmune disease, w ...
SEP 03, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Tiny Diagnostic Robot Tank Explores the Colon
SEP 03, 2020
Tiny Diagnostic Robot Tank Explores the Colon
The colon, also known as the large intestine, is where the final stages of digestion happen. Here, water, salts, and rem ...
Loading Comments...