Virtual biopsy lessens risks and stress for patients

Biopsies could one day be less risky and distressing to patients following the development of a non-invasive virtual biopsy device.

virtual biopsy
Image by skeeze on Pixabay

Developed by a scientist at Rutgers University, the virtual biopsy device uses sound vibrations and pulses of near-infrared light to determine a skin lesion’s depth and potential malignancy without using a scalpel.

Currently, physicians who perform surgical biopsies often don’t know the extent of a lesion – and whether it will be necessary to refer the patient to a specialist for extensive tissue removal or plastic surgery – until surgery has already begun.

Dubbed vibrational optical coherence tomography (VOCT), the new experimental procedure is said to create a 3D map of the legion’s width and depth under the skin with a laser diode. It also uses soundwaves to test the lesion’s density and stiffness because cancer cells are stiffer than healthy cells. An inch-long speaker applies audible soundwaves against the skin to measure the skin’s vibrations and determine whether the lesion is malignant.

“This procedure can be completed in 15 minutes with no discomfort to the patient, who feels no sensation from the light or the nearly inaudible sound,” said lead researcher Frederick Silver, a professor of pathology and laboratory at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “It’s a significant improvement over surgical biopsies, which are invasive, expensive and time-consuming.”

The study found that a prototype VOCT device – currently awaiting s FDA approval for large-scale testing – can accurately distinguish between healthy skin and different types of skin lesions and carcinomas. The researchers tested the device over six months on four skin excisions and on eight volunteers without skin lesions. Further studies are needed to fine-tune the device’s ability to identify a lesion’s borders and areas of greatest density and stiffness, which would allow physicians to remove tumours with minimally invasive surgery. The advance from Rutgers is described in Wiley Online Library.

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