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Israeli Innovation: New optical technology diagnoses early melanoma in real-time

For the first time, optical technology developed at Tel Aviv University, can diagnose skin cancer which is considered highly deadly in real-time – and save lives.

Professor Abraham Katzir: immediate diagnosis of melanoma can save lives

Ø This innovative technology, based on special optical fibers, can distinguish between a benign lesion on the skin and a malignant one, using a non-invasive, immediate, and automatic process.

Ø The technology can also distinguish between types of skin cancer, such as melanoma, a life-threatening type of cancer, and malignancies that are not as dangerous.

For the first time, optical technology can diagnose automatically skin cancer melanoma, which is considered highly deadly, in real-time.

The innovative technology, developed in the laboratory of Professor Abraham Katzir, from Faculty of Exact Sciences at Tel Aviv University, can distinguish between melanoma and malignancies that are not as dangerous.

The diagnosis is non-invasive and causes no pain. The team tried successfully this technology on about one hundred patients in a major hospital in Israel. The Journal of Medical Physics published the findings.

According to Professor Katzir, immediate diagnosis of melanoma can save lives. He explains that when a suspicious lesion found on the skin, during a routine examination, it can be removed in a minor surgical procedure and sent to a laboratory for testing.

A pathologist diagnoses the lesion to determine whether it is melanoma. In most cases, when melanoma is still superficial and less than one-millimeter-thick, it removes, and the patient recovers.

Late diagnosis, when the melanoma is over one-millimeter-thick, significantly reduces the chances of recovery and is life-threatening.

“That guided us in developing the technology was that in the visible range, there are various substances, having various colors, which are not characteristic of each substance. In the infrared region, various substances have different ‘colors’ of a sort, depending on the chemical makeup of each substance,” says Professor Katzir.

“Therefore, we figured that with the help of devices that can identify these ’colors’, healthy skin and each of the benign and malignant lesions would have different ’colors’ which would enable us to identify melanoma.”

The diagnosis is non-invasive and causes no pain

Professor Katzir’s group developed optical fibers that are transparent in the infrared developed a system, based on these fibers, which is suitable for the requirements of evaluating skin. The researchers connected one end of this type of fiber to a device that measures the ’colors’ in the infrared, and dabbed the other end, for several seconds, to a lesion on a patient’s skin. The fiber checks the ’color’ of the lesion right away.

The invention was developed in collaboration with physicists Professor Yosef Raichlin of Ariel University, Dr. Max Platkov of the Negev Nuclear Research Center, and Svetlana Bassov of Professor Katzir’s group, The group,

According to Professor Katzir, clinical trials carried out on suspicious lesions in about one hundred patients. With the help of the new system, physicists performed measurements of the ’color’ of each lesion, before it was removed and sent to a pathology laboratory. The researchers showed that all of the lesions that were determined by pathologists as being of a certain type, such as melanoma, had a characteristic ’color’ in the infrared. Each lesion of a different type had a different ’color’.

“This technology gives us a kind of ‘fingerprint’ that makes a clear diagnosis of the various lesions possible, by measuring their characteristic ’colors’, says Professor Katzir. “In this way, lesions can be diagnosed using a non-invasive optical method, and the physician and the patient receive the results automatically and immediately. This is unlike the test that is routinely used, which involves surgery, and the pathological diagnosis takes a long time.” 

In conclusion, Professor Katzir says: “This system has the potential to cause a dramatic change in diagnosing and treating skin cancer, and perhaps other types of cancer as well. The challenge will be to make this technology, which is still expensive, in every hospital or clinic.”

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