DURHAM, N.C. High-resolution images from a laser-based tool developed at Duke University could help doctors better diagnose melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, while potentially saving thousands of lives and millions of dollars in unnecessary healthcare costs each year.
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.
For the first time, scientists have the ability to identify substantial chemical differences between cancerous and healthy skin tissues, said Thomas Matthews, a Duke graduate student who helped develop the new two-laser microscopy technique.
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 results appear in the Feb. 23 Science Translational Medicine.
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. Even if the technique proves, on a large scale, to be 50 percent more accurate than a biopsy, it would prevent about 100,000 false melanoma diagnoses, said Warren S. Warren, director of Duke's Center for Molecular and Biomolecular Imaging and a chemistry professor. Warren oversaw the development of the new melanoma diagnostic tool.
Melanoma is the fifth-most common cancer for males and sixth-most common for females. In 2010, U.S. doctors diagnosed nearly 115,000 new cases of the disease, with nearly 8,700 resulting in death. The cancer is also one of the few where th
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