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Clinical Trials to Begin for Full-body Skin Cancer Detector

August 18, 2006

Physicians who treat people with a high risk to develop skin cancers may soon have a new tool to help them quickly and accurately detect changes in skin lesions. A full-body laser scanner and evaluating software, developed by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington and UT Southwestern Medical Center, will change a tedious and time-consuming procedure into one that is not only quicker, but also more accurate.

The device and its accompanying software are the result of a three-year partnership of Paul R. Bergstresser, MD, chairman of Dermatology at UT Southwestern; Y. Alp Aslandogan, PhD, assistant professor of Computer Science & Engineering at UT Arlington; and R. Stan Taylor, MD, professor of Dermatology at UT Southwestern. The team used a modest $30,000 grant from the James A. Schlipmann Melanoma Cancer Foundation to support their project.

To prescribe effective treatments, physicians need to detect changes in the appearance of pigmented skin lesions (nevi, dysplastic nevi, freckles, and flat seborrheic keratoses). Because patients who are at risk tend to have large numbers of pigmented skin lesions, it is often difficult to determine when change has occurred. The current practice involves evaluating a series of photographs taken over a long period of time – a method prone to error due to variances in lighting conditions, film processing, distances from the camera to the patient, and others.

The device developed at UT Arlington by the team utilizes computer-assisted scanning techniques that automatically detect changes in the shape, color and texture of pigmented skin lesions. The integration of 3-D depth information provided by the laser scanner vastly improves the accuracy of evaluations. The comparison views will be evaluated using the high-performance computing and high-bandwidth storage infrastructure in the Computer Science & Engineering Department at UT Arlington.

Patients in the clinical trials at UT Southwestern will be recruited from the practices of physicians in the Department of Dermatology and from the Pigmented Skin Lesion Clinic, which is overseen by Dr. Taylor. Patients will be given a base scan and return after set periods of time for additional scans. These will be evaluated against the base scan. The trials will initially target local areas before progressing to whole body scans; this should occur between 16 and 22 months from the start date.

If the trials proceed as expected, this project will lead to much more effective and efficient total body scans and will eventually lead to the widespread adoption of the technology by clinics, resulting in earlier detection and treatment of melanoma for higher proportions of population at high risk of melanoma.