Rewriting Life

Virtual Biopsy

Medicine

Last year, doctors told 1.3 million patients in the United States that they had skin cancer. But still more people underwent painful biopsies-in which a suspect mole is cut off, sliced into thin sections and examined under a microscope-on what turned out to be healthy skin. A new laser-based imaging device could allow doctors to peer painlessly into the skin and diagnose growths without surgical biopsies.

The device is a descendant of a laboratory tool called the confocal microscope. By scanning a laser beam across a tissue sample and detecting the light reflected back, the desk-sized microscope can piece together highly detailed images of successive layers of cells, creating virtual slices through the tissue. Lucid in Rochester, NY, and Optiscan Imaging in Notting Hill, Australia, are adapting the microscope to the doctor’s office. Ashfaq Marghoob, a dermatologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York who is testing Lucid’s “VivaScope,” is enthusiastic about the technology. “Instead of cutting out hundreds of moles, you can just scan them and follow any changes over time,” Marghoob says.

Preliminary studies indicate that devices like the VivaScope and Optiscan’s Stratum may be as reliable as standard biopsies in diagnosing many forms of skin cancer. Lucid senior vice president Stuart Itkin says the company aims to have a commercial model ready by May; Optiscan is planning to begin U.S. clinical trials around January. Itkin says confocal microscopy could be used to detect other cancers as well, replacing Pap smears and cervix and mouth biopsies.

This story is part of our September 2001 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Getting doctors to accept the new tool will be key to realizing that vision, though. That’s why Harvard Medical School pathologist Martin Mihm, a consultant for Lucid, is developing software to make the microscope’s images look more like biopsy slides. “If it’s not familiar to pathologists, [it’s] more difficult to use,” Mihm says. But if the device developers can make the diagnostic tool simple and accurate enough, millions of anxious patients will have one less thing to fear.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look: exclusive early access to important stories, before they’re available to anyone else

    Insider Conversations: listen in on in-depth calls between our editors and today’s thought leaders

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.