A University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of astronomy has come out with a telescope capable of evaluating skin blots which can turn cancerous.
The idea struck Andy Sheinis, who was at high risk for melanoma, about 10 years ago, during a visit to the dermatologist.
The technology used in his giant Keck Telescope is a low-cost and speedy way to sample the spectrum of light in every pixel of an image and build a three-dimensional "data cube."
It is used in astronomy to tease information about the size and composition of celestial objects millions or billions of light years from Earth.
The technology, Sheinis noted, can be compressed into a device the size of a camera and is now being integrated into a microscope at UW-Madison's Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation (LOCI).
In the context of assessing moles for their potential to become cancerous, the method, in a single snapshot, captures a three dimensional image in anywhere from 90 to several hundred wavelengths of light. It is quick, noninvasive, inexpensive and holds clinical promise not only for identifying worrisome moles but also for accurately mapping their extent, which is critical information when it comes to surgically excising them.
But the skin cancer assessment potential of the technology is just now being assessed using cancerous tissue, mounted on microscope slides, from about 50 patients as a first critical test. By comparing the data from the hyperspectral imager to the histology or microscopic anatomy of the mole, the gold standard for diagnosing melanoma, Sheinis, Xu and their colleagues will be able to test the accuracy of the method before trying the technology in a clinical setting.
"The idea is to take this device from astronomy and apply it to melanoma," said Kevin Eliceiri, a professor of molecular biology and biomedical engineering and director of LOCI.
"This is very new stuff. We don't know if it's going to work, but that's why we want to try it," added Eliceiri.