Photoacoustic device detects melanoma at the cellular level

Being able to detect melanoma—an aggressive form of cancer that spreads quickly throughout the body—long before tumors have a chance to form is critical. Recognizing this, researchers from the University of Missouri (MU; Columbia, MO) have developed a device that measures melanoma at the cellular level using photoacoustics, or laser-induced ultrasound.

Led by John Viator, associate professor of biomedical engineering and dermatology in the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center, the team's photoacoustic device emits laser light into a blood sample, and melanin within the cancer cells absorbs the light. Those cancer cells then expand as the lasers rapidly heat and then cool the cancer cells, making them prominent to those studying them. The device also would capture the expanded cells, identifying the form of cancer and the best treatment method.

Viator has recently signed a commercialization license to begin offering the device and method to scientists and academia for research. They are also preparing studies for FDA approval for clinical use, which is expected to take approximately two to three years. Viator says the final device will look similar to a desktop printer, and the costs to run the tests in a hospital would be a few hundred dollars.

"We are attempting to provide a faster and cheaper screening method, which is ultimately better for the patient and the physician," says Viator. "There are several melanoma drugs on the horizon. Combined with the new photoacoustic detection method, physicians will be able to use targeted therapies and personalized treatments, changing the medical management of this aggressive cancer. Plus, if the test is as accurate as we believe it will be, our device could be used as a standard screening in targeted populations."

For more information on the team's work, please visit http://bondlsc.missouri.edu/news/story/55/1.

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