18-Wheeler Cancer Cells

Melanoma detected at cellular level with photoacoustics device

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Cancer is visualized using all sorts of imaging technologies. It can be felt by patients themselves. Even dogs are known to sniff out cancer. Now, scientists are developing yet another way to detect cancer - before it develops into tumors.

Researchers are perfecting technology that can detect melanoma at the cellular level - long before tumors even think about forming. The technique combines lasers with ultrasound, also known as photoacoustics.

"If you notice any change in a mole, see your doctor right away."

University of Missouri researchers are working to put the final touches on a device that can peer into the inner workings of corrupted cells to find ones that are leaning toward becoming melanoma.

John Viator, associate professor of biomedical engineering and dermatology in the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center is spearheading this work. "We compare the detection method to watching an eight-lane highway full of white compact cars. In our tests, the cancer cells look like a black 18-wheeler," Viator said.

The most aggressive form of skin cancer needs to be caught early, because melanoma spreads throughout the body at lightning speed.

Today, the disease is diagnosed using computerized tomography (CT) scans and MRIs, which cost thousands of dollars. And by the time these imaging technologies pick it up, the melanoma has already taken shape.

This device that will be about the size of a computer printer shines a laser light into the blood sample. Melanin in the cancer cells jump through some hoops before become clearly visible.

Viator's photoacoustic machine will not only highlight these dangerous cells, but determine the form of cancer they are and the best way to annihilates them.

This machine will be offered to scientists and academics for research. Viator has signed a commercialization license to allow this to happen.

The technology will also be tested in clinical trials as is necessary for gaining U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval in the next few years.

Once it's commercially available, Viator says the testing can be performed in a physician's office and  cost only several thousand dollars.

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Review Date: 
January 12, 2012
Last Updated:
January 12, 2012