INNODERM - Physicians and engineers develop novel optoacoustic device for earlier non-invasive skin cancer diagnosis

The Technical University of Munich (TUM) is heading a European research project, where engineers and physicians together develop a new handheld instrument for early diagnosis of skin cancer. The concept may facilitate earlier detection, improved disease monitoring and immense savings for the executing clinical centers.

Over the next five years, a research team consisting of engineers, bioengineers and physicians will research an innovative new imaging device that promises to revolutionize detection and treatment monitoring of a wide variety of skin conditions ranging from wounds and scar healing to autoimmune disease and cancer. The new device sends short light pulses to the skin and detects ultrasound waves generated in response to light absorption by skin molecules and structures. Tomographic analysis of the ultrasound waves can reveal unprecedented volumetric views of skin constituents and disease manifestations at resolutions and depths never reached before by an optical method. Then, by using light pulses at different colors, accurate spectroscopic information is revealed not only for morphological, but also biochemical features of skin, providing accurate and specific diagnostic information.

To goal is to provide the physicians with a tool that allows on site-assessment of morphological, physiological and cellular changes of the skin area examined not only by inspecting the skin surface, but also sub-surface features within several millimeters of depth. In contrast to ultrasound skin imaging, Multi-Spectral Optoacoustic Mesoscopy (MSOM) considered in INNODERM can visualize features of healthy and morbid skin with markedly superior contrast and specificity. The research team will investigate the new MSOM device in different dermatology conditions, including cosmetics, hair growth / restoration and cancer-related surgery, and establish a set of features that can aid the dermatologist to achieve earlier detection and more accurate treatment follow-up. Overall, the new technology promises to lead to healthcare cost savings by reducing the number of unnecessary biopsies and offering individualized treatment monitoring towards precision dermatology.

Compact New Devices: Sooner, Better, Cost-effective

Optical methods are ideal for skin imaging as they are safe as well as more specific and sensitive than the ones currently used. However, optical examination today lacks the ability for three-dimensional imaging of skin pathophysiology volumetrically throughout the skin. “Multi-Spectral Optoacoustic Mesoscopy can shape the way dermatologists look at the skin in the near future” said Prof. Vasilis Ntziachristos, INNODERM Co-ordinator and Chair of Biological Imaging at the Technical University of Munich. In addition, the new approach can standardize the quality of care offered by different dermatology suites by three-dimensional imaging of the entire skin and corresponding quantitative characterization of disease biomarkers. INNODERM will contribute to miniaturize the technology into a highly portable and lightweight device appropriate for highly disseminated use in Dermatology clinics.

A Transdisciplinary Approach: Technology Improves Diagnosis

TUM is heading the project ”Innovative Dermatology Healthcare based on Label-Free Spectral Optoacoustic Mesoscopy (INNODERM)”, which combines the expertise of world-class engineers, scientists and clinicians in a consortium comprising 5 partners from 4 European countries. The project has been awarded a grant of 3,8 million € from Horizon 2020, the EU framework programme for research and innovation.

The project is one of several where TUM conducts research within the health technology field to improve diagnostics and treatment and reduce costs. In this EU project, scientists from TUM develop, among other things, novel optoacoustic components such as portable scanners, implement them in a clinical prototype and validate it in clinical diagnostics of various skin conditions.

Combined Expertise: Engineers Unite With Physicians

“We are very excited to be part of this innovative consortium”, says Prof. Antonio Costanzo, Associate Professor and Director of the Dermatology Unit and the Skin Biology Laboratory at Sapienza University, Rome. “We are looking forward to seeing the implementation of the clinical prototype and catch the early onset of disease, maybe even before obvious symptoms appear. “

“The approach of uniting scientists, engineers and clinicians to create solutions for urgent and so far unmet clinical needs is essential in modern medicine. This is the kind of symbiosis that we need to build the future of medicine that clearly trends towards early diagnosis, personalized treatments and also user-friendly patient monitoring by small portable devices.”

The research team hopes that successful completion of this project will not only have huge benefits in dermatological settings, but to expand and transfer the knowledge gained in INNODERM to other imaging applications for example in endoscopy or gynecology.

For further information:

Vasilis Ntziachristos, Chair, Institute of Biological Imaging (CBI), Technical University of Munich, Arcisstrasse 21, 80333 Munich; mail: v.ntziachristos@tum.de, phone: +49 89 3187 3852.

INNODERM’s Who is Who

The project comprises researchers from one hospital, two universities, two research institutions, and three small and medium-sized enterprises:

Technical University of Munich - GERMANY

Sonaxis SA - FRANCE

Rayfos LTD – UNITED KINGDOM

iThera Medical GmbH – GERMANY

Universita degli studi di Roma La Sapienza - ITALY