Cancer is a deadly disease that causes little to no symptoms in the early stages. The diagnosis is often done only when the symptoms appear and by then it’s usually too late to undergo any curative treatment. Confirmatory diagnosis requires invasive tissue extraction and biopsy, which can be costly for a simple screening. Thanks to a new discovery by a UBC researcher, diagnosing skin cancer may be done quickly in the outpatient department itself with very little cost.
The UBC researcher has come up with a simple low-cost laser probe to diagnose cancerous moles and differentiate them from harmless moles. “With skin cancer, there’s a saying that if you can spot if you can stop it, and that’s exactly what this probe is designed to do,” said Ph.D. student Daniel Louie, who is the genius behind the invention of the novel device. Louie saw the need for such a device due to the increasing number of skin cancer cases, and the limitations faced by a dermatologist to diagnose the disease without complex tests.
His desire to create a simple diagnostic tool led to the development of a $300 costing prototype of the novel device. “We set out to develop this technology using inexpensive materials, so the final device would be easy to manufacture and widely used as a preliminary screening tool for skin cancer,” said Louie.
The principle behind the tech
Light waves can pass through numerous mediums. The density and wavelength changes as light waves pass through different mediums. Louie designed his device based on this unique principle of light waves.
The probe can detect the difference in the tissue density and composition of harmless moles from skin tumors by identifying the specific signature of each tissue. The probe shoots beams of the laser into the skin, the light waves from the laser disperse and scatter within the tissue and return with a specific signature of the tissue.
“Because cancer cells are denser, larger and more irregularly shaped than normal cells, they cause distinctive scattering in the light waves as they pass through,” said Louie.
According to Tim Lee, an associate professor of skin science and dermatology at UBC, who supervised the project, The probe is not a replacement for the standard cancer screening methods, but it could be a good addition. The aim of the researchers is to integrate the health device into standard health systems and simplify the screening process for skin cancer.
The results of the probe are promising, however, it could still take 3 to 5 years to commercialize the probe. The probe has not yet received approval from Health Canada. However, Louie and Lee believe that after more clinical testing, their probe will soon get Health Canada certification and approval.