Skin biopsies are no fun: doctors dispose away tiny lumps of tissue for laboratory testing, causing patients to be suffering with painful wounds that may take weeks to heal. That''s a price worth paying if it enables early cancer treatment. However, recent diagnostic actions have seen the number of biopsies increase four times faster than the number of cancers detected, with around 30 benign lesions now biopsied for every type of skin cancer found.
Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology are now developing a low-cost handheld device that would lower the likelihood of unnecessary biopsies in half, and allow dermatologists and other frontline physicians convenient access to laboratory-grade cancer diagnostics. But we do not intend to give doctors additional tools and guidance.
The teams device utilizes millimeter-wave imaging, the same technology used in airport security scanners to scan a patient skin. (In earlier work, Tavassolian and her team had to work with already biopsied skin to determine if the cancer was diagnosed.)
Healthy tissue is reflected differently than cancerous tissue, making it possible to spot cancers by observing contrasts in the rays returned from the skin. To improve this approach, researchers used a combination of algorithms to create a single ultrahigh-bandwidth image, thus reducing noise and quickly capturing high-resolution photographs of even the most severe mole or blemish.
The team, spearheaded by Amir MirbeikPh.D. 18, conducted a tabletop analysis of 71 patients during real-world clinical trials, and found that their methods could accurately identify benign and malignant lesions in a few seconds. Tavassolian and Mirbeik scanned cancerous tissue with 97 percent deficiency and 98 percent specificity, at a rate similar to those used in hospital.
Skin cancers are discovered with other advanced imaging techniques, but they are also huge, costly machines that aren''t available in the clinic, according to Tavassolian. We are designing a low-cost device that is as small and as simple to operate as a cellphone, so we can facilitate advanced diagnostics into the hands of everybody.
According to Tavassolian, teams technology delivers results in seconds; it might one day be used instead of a magnifying dermatoscope in routine checkups, achieving incredible results almost immediately. That means doctors may integrate accurate diagnosis into routine checkups and ultimately treat more patients.
Millimeter-wave rays penetrate roughly 2mm into human skin, thus the teams imaging technology provides a clear 3D map of lesion margins. Future improvements to the algorithm that was driving the device might significantly improve the mapping of lesion margins, enabling more precise and less invasive biopsying for malignant lesions.
The team''s diagnostic kit will be loaded onto an integrated circuit, allowing functional handheld millimeter-wave diagnostic devices to be produced for as little as $100 per piece, a fraction of the cost of existing hospital-grade diagnostic equipment. The team is already working to commercialize their technology and hopes to begin putting their devices in clinicians hands within the next two years.
The road ahead is clear, and we know what we need to do, according to Tavassolian. After this proof of concept, we must miniaturize our technology, lower the price, and bring it to the market.