Engineers from the University of the West of England are working on the development of a skin analyser tool that will help enable doctors to diagnose malignant melanoma and other dermatological conditions such as burn severity.
Recent sponsorship worth £650,000 has been awarded to the consortium composed of UWE, Frenchay Hospital and Astron Clinica by the DTI Technology Programme to fund the so-called 'PhotoDerm' project.
Skin cancer incidence has been growing since the 1930's with current figures showing 6,000 people diagnosed and 1,600 dying in the UK alone every year.
One of the problems facing primary health care practitioners is that most do not have the specialist expertise to enable an accurate diagnosis of skin cancer, so most patients are referred to specialist units in hospitals. As the vast majority of referrals are found to be non-malignant, the diagnosis of skin cancer is costly to the NHS as specialists spend significant time on diagnosis.
'We are collaborating with Astron Clinica and specialists at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol to produce a new low-cost hand held skin analyser tool. We aim to make explicit the characteristics of the appearance of the skin that are not obvious to the naked eye. This will make it easier for a non specialist to make an early diagnosis,' said Dr Melvyn Smith at UWE.
The skin analyser tool will also be useful in burns units as the 3D imaging technique it employs will enable specialists to assess severity of burns through a clearer observation of burn depth.
A technical description of the engineering principles behind the device can be found here.