An international team of researchers has developed an advanced optics system to noninvasively detect disease by looking underneath the skin at blood vessel networks. One day, the high resolution 3D images could help clinicians to better diagnose, monitor and treat skin cancer and other skin conditions.
The researchers from Medical University Vienna (MUW) and Ludwig Maximilians University used optical coherence topography (OCT) to see beneath the surface of the skin. The group tested their technique on a range of skin diseases including a healthy palm, allergy-induced eczema on the forearm, dermatitis on the forehead and two cases of basal cell carcinoma (the most common type of skin cancer) on the face. Their results showed that compared to healthy skin, the blood vessel networks supplying blood to the tested lesions showed significantly altered patterns.
“The condition of the vascular network carries important information on tissue health and its nutrition,” said Rainer Leitgeb, the study’s principle investigator.
The MUW researchers, whose work is published in Biomedical Optics Express, are the first to use OCT to visualise the blood vessel network that feed cancerous skin lesions in humans. The team used a high-tech laser light source (developed at Ludwig Maximilians University) to maximise the quality of the images and to gain better penetration into skin tissue.
The team’s images of basal cell carcinoma showed a dense network of disorganised blood vessels, with large vessels abnormally close to the skin surface. The large vessels branch into secondary vessels that supply blood to the tumour. The images could provide important insights into the metabolic demands of the tumour during different stages of growth.
“We hope that improved in-depth diagnosis of tissue alterations due to disease might help to reduce the number of biopsies by providing better guidance,” Leitgeb stated.
In the future, the team would like to increase the field of view of the device so that they can image the full lesion along with its border to healthy tissue.
“We believe that in the future our method will help to simplify non-invasive dermatological in vivo diagnostics and allow for in-depth treatment monitoring,” said MUW researcher Cedric Blatter.