According to a study, researcher improves the imaging and detection of melanoma using virtual biopsies, as the most deadly form of skin cancer, and the fifth most common cancer in the United States. A Researcher developed a virtual biopsy tool that could give physicians a view into the cellular structure of the skin, allowing them to perform molecular analyses to guide patient care without having to cut away living tissue. Researcher idea could represent a breakthrough in noninvasive in vivo imaging of melanin, the skin pigment that's made by cells called melanocytes, which can become cancerous.

Wilson, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and in the School of Biomedical Engineering (SBME), is one of 15 researchers selected for a Young Investigator Award from the Melanoma Research Alliance. The award will allow Wilson and his team to go a step further in their research to make early detection of melanoma faster and cheaper, without the need for a biopsy

The mantra for melanoma has always been, 'when in doubt, cut it out.  But cutting away skin lesions is inconvenient and invasive, and often impractical for high-risk patients with a host of suspicious moles. Right now there are a handful of virtual biopsy tools available in the United States, but the devices are imperfect because they produce grainy images that bear little resemblance to a traditional biopsy.

Building on preliminary data from his grant from the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, Wilson's research harnesses the power of multiphoton microscopy, an imaging technique that has produced "exquisite contrast" between normal tissue and melanoma in laboratory settings. But these microscopies rely on an exceedingly expensive short-pulse laser—a major barrier to commercialization.

They aim to bring multiphoton imaging closer to clinical practice by removing the need for these costly short-pulse lasers through machine learning and digital signal processing techniques. When it comes to melanoma, dogs, and humans have a lot in common. Because of the similarities between canine oral melanomas and human melanomas, Wilson is collaborating with Doug Thamm, director of Clinical Research at the Flint Animal Cancer Center, to validate and test the new technology.

Using a handheld wand about the size of a marker, Wilson's proposed technique will allow clinicians to scan a laser beam across a suspected canine melanoma to create a real-time image that shows melanin-specific contrast to inform a diagnosis. As part of the research trial, a surgical biopsy of the dog's lesion will also be taken, and the traditional biopsy results will be compared with the noninvasive virtual images during a blind review.