Cancer of the skin is the most common type of cancer in the US, with more than one million Americans diagnosed every year. Melanoma is responsible for approximately 75% of all deaths from skin cancer; it is also the fastest growing cancer in the U.S. and worldwide, its incidence increasing 20-fold since 1935, to 1 in 74 people in 2000. The American Cancer Society projects over 10,000 deaths annually from skin cancer. Early detection remains the only effective means of fighting melanoma, but at present dermatologists rely primarily on visual examinations of patients to identify suspicious skin tissues. Unfortunately, melanomas can mimic benign lesions that are overwhelmingly more common, and misdiagnosis of melanoma can occur, with deadly consequences.

SkinSpect developed at SMI combines two depth-sensitive techniques: polarization and hyperspectral imaging, to produce a new multimode dermoscope that accurately determines the spatial distribution of biomolecules such as melanin and hemoglobin oxygenation in a skin lesion. This approach accurately separates the contribution of superficial melanin in order to quantify the deep melanin relative concentration so that oxy- and deoxy-hemoglobin distribution can be accurately assessed. SkinSpect can provide biologically plausible measurements that can be used to determine the lesion anatomy and physiology. The technology has been evaluated using tissue mimicking phantoms as well as in vivo human skin imaging. The availability of this quantitative information in three dimensions should allow physicians more accurate and earlier melanoma diagnoses.

Hyperspectral Imaging

Hyperspectral imaging – originally developed for satellite reconnaissance – can provide a powerful tool for cancer detection. SMI is developing non-invasive devices that use this technology for highly specific clinical diagnostics, by high-resolution identification and analysis of certain molecular, cellular, and tissue features. Our technology is expected to enable early detection and more reliable diagnosis skin cancers including melanoma.