Revolutionary new technology for detecting skin cancer

Revolutionary new technology for detecting skin cancer

Say goodbye to biopsies and hello to millimetre-wave imaging: new low-cost technology can detect skin cancer.

Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology are now developing a low-cost handheld device that could cut the rate of unnecessary biopsies in half and give dermatologists and other frontline physicians easy access to laboratory-grade skin cancer diagnostics.

“We aren’t trying to get rid of biopsies,” said Negar Tavassolian, director of the Bio-Electromagnetics Laboratory at Stevens. “But we do want to give doctors additional tools and help them to make better decisions.”

The device uses millimetre-wave imaging – the same technology found in airport security scanners – to scan a patient’s skin.

The research was published in Scientific Reports.

Innovating skin cancer detection

Healthy tissue reflects millimetre-wave imaging different than cancerous tissue. This illuminates the possibility of spotting cancers by monitoring contrasts in the rays reflected from the skin. To bring that approach into clinical practice, the researchers used algorithms to fuse signals captured by multiple different antennas into a single ultrahigh-bandwidth image, reducing noise and quickly capturing high-resolution images of even the tiniest mole or blemish.

To test the technology, the team examined 71 patients during real-world clinical visits and found their methods could accurately distinguish benign and malignant lesions in just a few seconds. Tavassolian and Amir Mirbeik could identify cancerous tissue with 97% sensitivity and 98% specificity – a rate competitive with even the best hospital-grade diagnostic tools.

“There are other advanced imaging technologies that can detect skin cancers, but they’re big, expensive machines that aren’t available in the clinic,” said Tavassolian. “We’re creating a low-cost device that’s as small and as easy to use as a cell phone, so we can bring advanced diagnostics within reach for everyone.”

Because the team’s technology delivers results in seconds, it could one day be used instead of a magnifying dermatoscope in routine check-ups, giving extremely accurate results almost instantly.

“That means doctors can integrate accurate diagnostics into routine check-ups, and ultimately treat more patients,” said Tavassolian.

The future of millimetre-wave imaging

Unlike many other imaging methods, millimetre-wave rays harmlessly penetrate about 2mm into human skin, allowing a clear 3D map of scanned lesions for the researchers to analyse for skin cancer. Future improvements to the algorithm powering the device could significantly improve the mapping of lesion margins enabling more precise and less invasive biopsy for malignant lesions.

The team will pack the diagnostic kit onto an integrated circuit, a step that could allow low functional handheld millimetre-wave diagnostic devices to be produced for around $100, a fraction of the cost of existing hospital-grade equipment.

“The path forward is clear, and we know what we need to do,” said Tavassolian. “After this proof of concept, we need to miniaturise our technology, bring the price down, and bring it

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