Structured illumination microscope speeds skin cancer detection

With the goal of one day improving skin cancer detection, Northeastern University students have developed a compact, structured illumination microscope that takes an image of an entire skin biopsy and then feeds the image into a filtering software program.

With the goal of one day improving skin cancer detection, Northeastern University (Boston, MA) students have developed a compact, structured illumination microscope that takes an image of an entire skin biopsy and then feeds the image into a filtering software program. The program then creates a 3-D model that separates out each layer of the skin, thereby speeding and simplifying detection over the current method, which involves taking a skin biopsy, freezing it, slicing the individual layers of skin and examining them one by one.

Current electrical and computer engineering majors Daniel Boyd, Sarah Brown, Brian Dorfman, Ryan Fox, Mike Levesque and Tim Sutton decided they wanted to pursue a capstone project started by seniors the previous year. This year’s senior team focused on improving the processing speed and decreasing the microscope’s size to make the device useful in a clinical setting. In particular, the students say that their decision to switch from using high-powered lasers to LEDs cut the size of microscope roughly in half, reducing both costs and the power needed to operate the device.

“This type of microscope could be used in the evaluation of a skin sample to determine whether cancerous cells are present, and a compact form could be used on-site in dermatologists’ offices, rather than sending the skin biopsy to an external lab,” says Fox.

Members of the electrical and computer science faculty mentored the students. Associate professor Masoud Salehi served as the students’ advisor. The seniors also did much of their work in the Optical Science Laboratory at Northeastern, directed by associate professor Charles DiMarzio.

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Posted by Lee Mather

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