Scientists create ‘virtual biopsy’ device to detect skin tumors

Using sound vibrations and pulses of near-infrared light, a Rutgers University scientist has developed a new “virtual biopsy” device that can quickly determine a skin lesion’s depth and potential malignancy without using a scalpel.

The ability to analyze a skin tumor non-invasively could make biopsies much less risky and distressing to patients, according to a report in Wiley Online Library. Currently, physicians who perform surgical biopsies often don’t know the extent of a lesion—and whether it will be necessary to refer the patient to a specialist for extensive tissue removal or plastic surgery—until surgery has already begun.

The first-of-its-kind experimental procedure, called vibrational optical coherence tomography (VOCT), creates a 3-D map of the legion’s width and depth under the skin with a tiny laser diode. It also uses soundwaves to test the lesion’s density and stiffness since cancer cells are stiffer than healthy cells. An inch-long speaker applies audible soundwaves against the skin to measure the skin’s vibrations and determine whether the lesion is malignant.

“This procedure can be completed in 15 minutes with no discomfort to the patient, who feels no sensation from the light or the nearly inaudible sound. It’s a significant improvement over surgical biopsies, which are invasive, expensive and time consuming,” said lead researcher Frederick Silver, a professor of pathology and laboratory at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

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