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Seeing melanoma

Melanoma is one of the less common types of skin cancer but it accounts for the majority of the skin cancer deaths (about 75 percent).

The five-year survival rate for early stage melanoma is very high (98 percent), but the rate drops precipitously if the cancer is detected late or there is recurrence.

So a great deal rides on the accuracy of the initial surgery, where the goal is to remove as little tissue as possible while obtaining "clean margins" all around the tumor.

So far no imaging technique has been up to the task of defining the melanoma's boundaries accurately enough to guide surgery.

Instead surgeons tend to cut well beyond the visible margins of the lesion in order to be certain they remove all the malignant tissue.

Two scientists at Washington University in St. Louis have developed technologies that together promise to solve this difficult problem.

Their solution, described in the July issue of ACS Nano, combines an imaging technique developed by Lihong Wang, PhD, the Gene K. Beare Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and a contrast agent developed by Younan Xia, PhD, the James M. McKelvey Professor of Biomedical Engineering.

Together the imaging technique and contrast agent produce images of startling three-dimensional clarity.

Photoacoustic tomography

The imaging technique is based on the photoacoustic effect discovered by Alexander Graham Bell 100 years ago. Bell exploited the effect in what he considered his greatest invention ever, the photophone, which converted sound to light, transmitted the light and then converted it back to sound at the receiver.

(The public preferred the telephone to the photophone, by some facetious accounts because they just didn't believe wireless transmission was really possible.)

In Bell's effect, the absorption of light heats a material slightly, typically by a matter of millikelvins, and t

Contact: Diana Lutz
Washington University in St. Louis

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