Ascension Seton dermatologist Dr. Jason Reichenberg is one of the researchers at the University of Texas at Austin who helped invent a new optical tool that makes it easier to find skin cancer. The research team worked under James Tunnell, PhD with the Department of Biomedical Engineering, to develop a light-based probe that’s less invasive than a biopsy. No incisions are necessary, and the test takes just a few seconds.
The concept is inventive and important enough that it won the “Sci Fi No Longer” award at the 18th annual SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards.
Biopsy vs. Light-Based Skin Cancer Diagnosis
A biopsy has to remove skin to test for cancer. This new device instead shines three different types of light over the skin. A computer analyzes the results to see how the light interacts with skin tissues, indicating whether cancerous tissue could be present. Changes in the skin cells occur as normal skin becomes cancerous, along with changes in how skin layers look. All of these alterations will cause the light to interact with healthy and cancerous tissue differently.
The optical tool is faster, easier to use and less expensive than performing biopsies. It’s estimated that a large number of unneeded biopsies are done every year—as many as 25 negative results for each biopsy that does detect cancer. Using this device could save billions of dollars in biopsy costs annually. A more affordable way to test for sin cancer can also mean lower costs to the patient, which could encourage earlier intervention and treatment.
The research team plans to partner up with startup companies and funding agencies for further testing and larger-scale production.