Virtual Biopsy Device to Detect Skin Cancer

18 June 2019

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A team of scientists based at Rutgers University in the US have developed a device capable of detecting skin tumours quickly and non-invasively.

Currently, biopsies must be performed surgically and physicians have very little prior knowledge of the legions extent. The development could allow for less risky biopsies in future and could reduce the amount of stress caused to patients.

The “virtual biopsy” device uses sound vibrations and pulses of near-infrared light to create a 3D map of the tumour under the skin.

The groundbreaking procedure termed vibrational optical coherence tomography (VOCT) can determine the legion's width and depth under the skin using a tiny laser diode.

The VOCT device also uses a small speaker approximately an inch long to apply soundwaves against the patient's skin to test the density of the legion. As cancer cells are stiffer than healthy cells, the vibrations can determine whether the lesion is cancerous.

Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School pathology and laboratory medicine professor Frederick Silver said: “This procedure can be completed in 15 minutes with no discomfort to the patient, who feels no sensation from the light or the nearly inaudible sound. It’s a significant improvement over surgical biopsies, which are invasive, expensive and time-consuming.”

Over a 6 month study, the team tested on four skin excisions and eight volunteers without skin lesions and found the prototype could accurately distinguish healthy skin from different types of skin lesions and carcinomas.

Although further studies are required to perfect the devices ability to determine the exact size and density of a legions borders, researchers are hopeful that it will enable the removal of tumours without the need for invasive surgery.