Hybrid imaging probe to diagnose skin cancer in development

The early diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer is critical for patient outcomes, and a new collaboration funded by the National Institute for Health Research between researchers at King’s Health Partners and an innovative British company hopes to improve skin cancer diagnosis.

Dermatologists and researchers from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London are working with Michelson Diagnostics Ltd to develop and test a hybrid imaging probe, combining the advantages of Michelson Diagnostics’ novel Multi-Beam OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) probe with a visual camera. The OCT and visual images from the hybrid probe will be combined to provide enhanced diagnostic information to clinicians. 

OCT technology has been developed over the past decade and is capable of imaging human skin anatomy in real time and in 3D.  It works by detecting infrared light scattered from the tissue, and can ‘see’ down to 2 mm below the skin. 

This imaging approach has the potential to provide new information from below the skin’s surface to help in the diagnosis of skin cancer and reducing the need for painful biopsies.  It also has the potential to map how far a cancer has spread below the skin’s surface, information that has not been available to dermatologists before.

Project leader Dr Andrew Coleman, consultant medical physicist at Guy’s and St Thomas’, explained the benefits of the hybrid probe.  He said: “When interpreting OCT images of sub-surface tissue, it really helps if you know exactly where on the lesion you are scanning, and the hybrid probe will enable this.”

The annual incidence of skin cancer in the UK is estimated to be around 100,000 cases per year, representing 20% of all cancers. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical, particularly in cases of malignant melanoma where tumour growth is often rapid. 

Dr Katie Lacy, consultant dermatologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’, who is leading the clinical validation of the hybrid probe, said: “The accurate and early diagnosis of malignant skin lesions is vital to ensure the best possible outcome for patients.  This new instrument will allow dermatologists to view not only the surface appearance of skin cancer but, for the first time, to also examine the structures under the skin in the clinic.  This will hopefully lead to improved diagnostic accuracy and better treatment.”

The surgical evaluation will be headed by Dr Raj Mallipeddi, consultant dermatological surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’. He said: “This probe should help identify exactly where cancerous tissue is growing and spreading, making it easier to see the borders of skin cancers when surgical removal is the only option.”

Michelson Diagnostics has delivered a state-of-the-art ‘VivoSight’ OCT skin scanner to Guy’s Hospital for the project, and the lesions of 93 patients have already been scanned and are being analysed. The scanner will next be modified to incorporate the hybrid probe, and then more patients will be able to benefit from these enhanced scanning techniques. 

“I am very excited about this project,” said Carole Letherby, a patient representative on the project team and someone living with skin cancer. “If successful, it will have a major impact for patients, with less need for painful biopsies, faster treatment decisions, and fewer repeat appointments for further surgery.”

Three-quarters of this £98,500 research project has been funded by a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Invention for Innovation ‘i4i’ award made to the partners, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College London and Michelson Diagnostics Ltd. 

Michelson Diagnostics

Recent Issues