Scientists from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) are developing a new opto-acoustic device that uses photonics to objectively identify skin cancer and other diseases more precisely by eliminating the necessity for invasive biopsies.
This new device can enable the early diagnosis of malignant melanoma, thereby saving hundreds of thousands of lives over the next ten years, improving quality of life as well as reducing healthcare costs.
The research is being conducted through Innovative Dermatology Healthcare (INNODERM), based on Label-Free Spectral Optoacoustic Mesoscopy, and includes engineers, scientists and clinicians in a consortium comprising of five partners from four European countries.
TUM Biological Imaging INNODERM coordinator and chair Vasilis Ntziachristos said: "We are essentially listening to light, allowing us to see not just structures but molecules and biology on and under the skin, at depths and contrast never visualised before.
"It will enable physicians to make accurate and objective diagnosis of skin conditions for the first time."
The latest method uses opto-acoustics, transmitting light waves of different wavelengths into the skin and identifying ultrasound waves generated within tissue in response to light absorption in order to develop an image of the skin tissue and specific molecules therein.
The portable and easy to carry device can view images at depths up to 5mm under the skin, measures 4cm x 4cm x 7cm, and can be placed on the skin to produce a high-resolution image in less than a minute.
Ntziachristos added: "The device allows us to see blood vessels, skin oxygenation and potentially several novel pathophysiological features which are an integral area in the development of diseases.
"No one has ever been able to see like this before."
The project has received a grant of €3.8m from Horizon 2020, the EU framework programme for research and innovation under the Photonics21 public-private partnership (PPP).
Image: Micrograph of malignant melanoma. Photo: courtesy of Nephron.