Laser Probe Can Spot Skin Cancer in Seconds


Work is being done on a compact laser probe that has the ability to distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous moles in mere seconds. Researcher Daniel Louie, Ph.D. student at the University of British Columbia (UBC), created the device as part of his studies in biomedical engineering. 

"With skin cancer, there's a saying that if you can spot it you can stop it, and that's exactly what this probe is designed to do...We set out to develop this technology using inexpensive materials, so the final device would be easy to manufacture and widely used as a preliminary screening tool for skin cancer," explained Louie in an interview with

The probe works by detecting and measuring light waves on the skin. Light waves change as they pass through objects, and since cancer cells are denser and irregularly shaped, it causes a scattering in the light waves as it passes through. Volunteer patients allowed the research team to aim the laser into their skin tissue and study the changes that occurred in the light beam. 

While imaging devices for skin cancer detection are already available, Louie emphasizes how this specific device can extract measurements without the need for expensive equipment like lenses and cameras. Louie also explained how he envisions this probe to be used in addition to standard cancer screening methods, and it is not intended to act as a replacement. 

"We have so few dermatologists relative to the growing number of skin cancers that are occurring. If we can develop a device that can be integrated easily into other parts of the health care system, we can simplify the screening process and potentially save hundreds if not thousands of lives," explained Tim Lee, associate professor of skin science and dermatology at UBC, senior scientist at BC Cancer an Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.

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