Duke University scientists have been successfully testing a new laser system they developed to identify cancerous skin moles. Two lasers in the system are used to identify the presence of eumelanin in biopsy slices and a future version of the device may work directly without having to sample the mole. According to an article in Science Translational Medicine, “the ratio of eumelanin to pheomelanin captured all investigated melanomas but excluded three-quarters of dysplastic nevi and all benign dermal nevi.”
The tool probes skin cells using two lasers to pump small amounts of energy, less than that of a laser pointer, into a suspicious mole. Scientists analyze the way the energy redistributes in the skin cells to pinpoint the microscopic locations of different skin pigments.
The Duke team imaged 42 skin slices with the new tool. The images show that melanomas tend to have more eumelanin, a kind of skin pigment, than healthy tissue. Using the amount of eumelanin as a diagnostic criterion, the team used the tool to correctly identify all eleven melanoma samples in the study.
The technique will be further tested using thousands of archived skin slices. Studying old samples will verify whether the new technique can identify changes in moles that eventually did become cancerous.
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Image: Malignant melanoma under the new laser light. Clear deposits of eumelanin (red) appear in the unhealthy tissue.