Monday, November 26, 2012

Seeing Under Skin

Doctors may soon be able to ‘see’ under the skin as a less-invasive way to detect skin cancer.

Since the 1990s ophthalmologists have used an imaging technique called optical coherence tomography (OCT) to examine eyes, and recently dermatologists have begun to show interest in this technique as a non-invasive way to detect skin diseases, including cancer.

OCT provides high-resolution images, and when used for dermatological purposes, it can show a 3-D network of blood vessels beneath the skin. Researchers from the Medical University Vienna (MUW) in Austria, as well as Ludwig Maximilians University in Germany, used OCT to look at both healthy patches of skin and allergy-induced patches of skin. Scientists were able to see that the blood flow in the vessels to the healthy skin was drastically different than the blood flow in the vessels to the unhealthy skin.

“The condition of the vascular network carries important information on tissue health and its nutrition,” said Rainer Leitgeb, lead researcher at MUW. He goes on to mention that there is a lot to learn about this technique and that the value of this information is very much underutilized.

The hope is that OCT will eventually allow physicians to reduce the number of biopsies performed on patients, but also assess how quickly a tumor is expected to grow. For patients undergoing treatment, OCT could help monitor progress.

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