Looking for a way to create a "virtual biopsy," a scientist at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ) has developed a device based on optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging to quickly determine a skin lesion's depth and potential malignancy without using a scalpel.
The ability to analyze a skin tumor noninvasively could make biopsies much less risky and distressing to patients, according to the paper that describes the work. Currently, physicians who perform surgical biopsies often don't know the extent of a lesion, and whether it will be necessary to refer the patient to a specialist for extensive tissue removal or plastic surgery, until surgery has already begun.
The experimental procedure, called vibrational optical coherence tomography (VOCT), creates a 3D map of the lesion's width and depth under the skin using pulses from a near-infrared laser diode. It also uses soundwaves to test the lesion's density and stiffness since cancer cells are stiffer than healthy cells. An inch-long speaker applies audible soundwaves against the skin to measure the skin's vibrations and determine whether the lesion is malignant.
"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," says lead researcher Frederick Silver, a professor of pathology and laboratory at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
The study found that the prototype VOCT device, which awaits FDA approval for large-scale testing, is able to accurately distinguish between healthy skin and different types of skin lesions and carcinomas. The researchers tested the device over six months on four skin excisions and on eight volunteers without skin lesions. Further studies are needed to fine-tune the device's ability to identify a lesion's borders and areas of greatest density and stiffness, which would allow physicians to remove tumors with minimally invasive surgery.
Full details of the work appear in the journal Skin Research & Technology.