Canadian researchers develop optical probe to detect skin cancer

7 March 2019 (Last Updated March 7th, 2019 13:57)

Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada are developing an optical probe to enable early detection of melanoma.

Canadian researchers develop optical probe to detect skin cancer
Optical probe for skin cancer screening developed at UBC. Credit: UBC

Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada are developing an optical probe to enable early detection of melanoma.

The device differentiates harmless moles from cancerous ones by analysing the light pattern of lasers directed into skin tissue. Cancerous cells are identified by their dense, irregular shape, which is said to cause distinctive scattering in the light waves.

The research team carried out a study on 47 patients to evaluate these changes in light patterns and the findings have been published in the Journal of Biomedical Optics.

“We set out to develop this technology using inexpensive materials, so the final device would be easy to manufacture and widely used as a preliminary screening tool.”

UBC researcher Daniel Louie said: “With skin cancer, there’s a saying that if you can spot it you can stop it, and that’s exactly what this probe is designed to do.

“We set out to develop this technology using inexpensive materials, so the final device would be easy to manufacture and widely used as a preliminary screening tool for skin cancer.”

This cost-effective optical probe does not require expensive lenses or cameras that are commonly used in existing imaging devices. The new device also delivers an easy-to-interpret numerical result.

Melanoma is one of the deadliest types of skin cancer, affecting more than 130,000 people each year globally. In Canada, approximately 7,200 new cases are reported annually.

The researchers hope that the optical probe would enable early detection of the disease.

UBC skin science and dermatology associate professor said: “We have so few dermatologists relative to the growing number of skin cancers that are occurring.

“If we can develop a device that can be integrated easily into other parts of the healthcare system, we can simplify the screening process and potentially save hundreds if not thousands of lives.”