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Skin cancer diagnosis technique could also help prevent blindness


A new technique to aid early detection of skin cancer could also help fight serious eye diseases such as those caused by diabetes.

The technique has been developed at the University of Birmingham with funding from the Swindon-based Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It involves using an innovative form of image analysis to tell the difference between skin cancer and other types of skin damage. This allows the cancer to be identified earlier and treated more quickly, which can be vital in ensuring the treatment’s success.

The research team is led by Dr Ela Claridge, Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham’s School of Computer Science. The work to date has involved successful collaboration between physicists, computer scientists and the medical profession, as well as a link-up with industry.

Light interacts with tissue in different ways depending on the composition of the tissue.

The technique measures the amount of different frequencies of light, which is absorbed, scattered and reflected by skin. A mathematical model is then used to construct images, which show the tissue composition at every point in the skin, enabling a doctor to detect early signs of cancer.

The technique has been patented as the SIAscope and is being used routinely in hospitals and clinics in the UK and overseas for aiding the diagnosis of skin cancers. Cambridge based manufacturer, Astron Clinica has developed the technology and is producing devices incorporating the idea for clinical use. An extensive programme of clinical research is refining and extending the applications of the technology

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has now awarded the research team a further grant to extend the technique to the early diagnosis of diseases of the retina. Eye conditions of this kind are often associated with diabetes and can cause blindness if not treated promptly.

Dr Claridge says: “With rising levels of skin cancer and diabetes regularly in the headlines, it is very stimulating to be involved in work that can make a real contribution to healthcare in the UK and beyond. It is also important to note that the success of any early diagnosis technique is completely dependent on people presenting themselves to a doctor for examination in the first place”.

Jane Reck | alfa
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