A research team from Rutgers University in the US has created a ‘virtual biopsy’ device for non-invasive and quick detection of skin tumours.

The device has been designed to provide information on a skin lesion’s depth and potential malignancy, without the need for a scalpel.

A study published in Wiley Online Library says that non-invasive analysis of a skin tumour could allow less risky biopsies and reduce distress for patients.

During existing surgical biopsy approaches, physicians lack information on the extent of a lesion and if extensive tissue removal or plastic surgery must be recommended.

The latest investigational vibrational optical coherence tomography (VOCT) procedure uses a small laser diode and generates a 3D map of the lesion’s width and depth under the skin.

In addition, it leverages soundwaves to analyse the lesion’s density and stiffness as cancer cells are known to be stiffer compared to healthy cells.

A speaker delivers audible soundwaves against the skin for measuring the skin’s vibrations and to determine the lesion’s malignancy.

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.”

The team conducted a study where a prototype VOCT device demonstrated ability to accurately differentiate healthy skin from various types of skin lesions and carcinomas.

The study was carried out over six months on four skin excisions and eight volunteers without lesions.

While additional studies are required to refine the device’s ability to identify a lesion’s borders and greatest density and stiffness areas, it is expected to enable removal of tumours with minimally invasive surgery.