Engineering Minute

Engineering Minute – Skin Cancer Detecting Probe

As one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, early detection is critical in fighting melanoma. In an attempt to help clinicians correctly diagnose melanoma, researchers at the University of British Columbia, in Canada, have developed a laser probe that has the ability to distinguish between benign and cancerous moles. A study on the probe's effectiveness was recently published in the Journal of Biomedical Optics


“With skin cancer, there’s a saying that if you can spot it you can stop it – and that’s exactly what this probe is designed to do,” said researcher Daniel Louie, a PhD student who constructed the device as part of his studies in biomedical engineering at the University of British Columbia. “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.”

Optical probe for skin cancer screening developed at UBC.
Optical probe for skin cancer screening developed at UBC. Credit: University of British Columbia


From the University of British Columbia article: "The probe works on the principle that light waves change as they pass through objects. The researchers aimed a laser into skin tissue from volunteer patients and studied the changes that occurred to this light beam.

'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. 'We were able to invent a novel way to interpret these patterns instantaneously.'

Imaging devices to assist cancer detection are not new, but this optical probe can extract measurements without needing expensive lenses or cameras, and it can provide a more easily interpreted numerical result like those of a thermometer. Although the probe’s components cost only a few hundred dollars total, it is not envisioned to be a consumer product."


Read more about the skin cancer detecting probe at the University of British Columbia.