Seton doctor, UT researchers develop new device to diagnose skin cancer

Researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas in Austin teamed up with a Seton doctor to design a skin cancer detection device unlike any other.

The doctors who created the tool said it has been seven years in the making. The finished product can evaluate skin tissue in just seconds, without a biopsy. That could save millions of lives.

"Skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell specifically, are the most common cancer in the united states," said Dr. Jason Reichenberg, director of dermatology at Seton Healthcare Family.

The wand, which is no larger than a pen, uses a laser to detect information invisible to the naked eye.

"Basically what this device is doing is it is shining a light into the skin... And then it's receiving that light back into the probe… And it harmlessly receives that information from that light to determine if something is concerning for skin cancer," said Reichenberg.

When skin becomes cancerous, light interacts differently with the tissue.

"On the computer you can see the wavelength is peaking in different areas showing different absorption and reflection," said Reichenberg.

Researchers said for every skin cancer detected there are about 25 negative biopsies performed. That costs the US health care system about $6 billion. Examining the data from the new detection device could make those costly biopsies obsolete.

"Hopefully, this device, if it can be used to perhaps make a diagnosis, or perhaps because this device is not a painful device, it may encourage patients to see their doctor sooner without being so worried about getting a painful skin biopsy," said Reichenberg.

Judges at the SXSW Interactive Awards were so blown away by the technology they presented doctors with a first place trophy.

"It was a big shock to us. The other competitors in the category which was "Sci-Fi No Longer" were very Sci-Fi. We had everything from hearing devices to mini motors to flying cars, so it was very humbling, very exciting that we were able to win the award," said Reichenberg.

Doctors at Seton are already using the device in clinical trials. They hope to make it available to dermatologists once it has been approved.