Photoacoustic device finds cancer cells before they become tumors

Early detection of melanoma, the most aggressive skin cancer, is critical because melanoma will spread rapidly throughout the body.
Commercial production of a device that measures melanoma using photoacoustics, or laser-induced ultrasound, will soon be available to scientists and academia for cancer studies. The device also will be tested in clinical trials to provide the data required to obtain FDA approval for early diagnosis of metastatic melanoma and other cancers.
“Using a small blood sample, our device and method will provide an earlier diagnosis for aggressive melanoma cancers,” said John Viator, associate professor of biomedical engineering and dermatology in the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center. “We compare the detection method to watching an eight-lane highway full of white compact cars. In our tests, the cancer cells look like a black 18-wheeler.”
Currently, physicians use CT or MRI scans for melanoma cancer detection, costing thousands of dollars. The photoacoustic device emits laser light into a blood sample, and melanin within the cancer cells absorbs the light. Those cancer cells then expand as the lasers rapidly heat and then cool the cancer cells, making them prominent to researchers.  The device also would capture the expanded cells, identifying the form of cancer the physicians are fighting and the best treatment method.