Affordable Laser Probe Created for Early Melanoma Detection

A simple, compact laser probe is an opportunity for early detection of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

A simple, compact laser probe uses the principle of light waves to distinguish between harmless and cancerous moles in a matter of seconds.

"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."

Although imaging devices that assist cancer detection are not new, this optical probe can extract measurements without needing expensive lenses or cameras, and it can provide more easily interpreted numerical results 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, according to the press release.

"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," Louie said. "We were able to invent a novel way to interpret these patterns instantaneously."

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and is diagnosed in more than 130,000 people globally every year. The laser probe is an opportunity for early detection, according to the developers.

"We have so few dermatologists relative to the growing number of skin cancers that are occurring," Lee said. "If we can develop a device that can be integrated easily into other parts of the health care system, we can simplify the screening process and potentially save hundreds if not thousands of lives."