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A New Scanner for Your Skin

The Jewish Star: March 19, 2010 - Malka Eisenberg

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A new device to analyze and diagnose skin lesions is under development at Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

The Optical Spector-Polarimetry Imaging System was developed by Ofir Aharon, a doctoral candidate in the electro-optics department at the university. The system uses liquid crystal devices, optical filters, infrared light, polarization controllers and an algorithm to interpret images the device produces when focused on skin lesions.

According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with one million cases diagnosed every year. Skin cancer is diagnosed either by self-examination or visual examination by a dermatologist.

A biopsy is currently the only way to determine with certainty if something is cancer and what type of cancer, though if Optical Spector-Polarimetry works, this may change.

Aharon said he developed the device, "to map the inner skin in a different way."

"The research is just in its beginning since the pictures we got with my system are very new to the medicine and actually have never been seen before," he wrote.

The system was used on 73 patients under the guidance of Dr. Ofer Arnon from Soroka University Medical Center's Department of Plastic Surgery.

Malignant Melanoma

Malignant Melanoma

"Ten kinds of lesions were scanned," explained Aharon via email, "among them were malignant melanoma, squamous cell cancer and basal cell cancer."

He said he could not fully explain how the device works until it is published in a scientific journal and more research still needs to be done about their finding. He did say though that it scans a "wide range of electro magnetic frequency…and rotates the electric field over a whole circle of polarization. This allowed us to take a sequence of pictures in a unique order."

The computer analyzes the scattered light that reflects the inner tissue structure. They are currently improving the system and interpreting the data, but Aharon noted that there are clear and visible differences between cancerous and non-cancerous images.

He stressed that there is "still vast research that needs to be done to be able to correlate the imaging and the histology (microscopic structure of tissues) findings."

Liquid crystal, Aharon explained, are "molecules that can flow like a liquid but can also be arranged in a certain order like crystals."

There are different types of liquid crystals and they are affected by different phenomena like electricity, light, temperature, pressure, solvents and concentration.

Aharon developed the system under the supervision of Professor Ibrahim Abdulhalim, head of the BGU Electro-Optical Unit in the Faculty of Engineering Sciences. "I invented and built the liquid crystal devices and the algorithm to control the system and extract the information," explained Aharon.

Two dermatologists were asked to read a press release regarding the OSPI.

"The OSPI instrument appears to be an important step in helping to diagnose skin cancers," said Dr. Steven Natow, a dermatologist in Woodmere and Clinical Assistant Professor at NYU Medical Center. "Should further studies of the device demonstrate effectiveness, then I foresee its widespread use by dermatologists."

Dr. Michael Mann, a Manhattan dermatologist, was cautious.

"Not every medical device that shows initial promise will eventually be approved for use in clinical practice," he explained. "Not every newly approved medical device will ultimately change medical practice as dramatically as its promoters had anticipated, but in theory this device may possess transformative potential."

Aharon said that it will at first be a laptop and "handy scanner" but hopes to eventually shrink the technology to be able to be the size of a cell phone.