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Liquid lens peers under the skin

May 2011
Compiled by BioPhotonics staff

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Cancer under the skin may be found and examined more easily, thanks to a new portable optical technology featuring a liquid lens that provides unprecedented high-resolution 3-D images of what lies beneath the skin’s surface.

The new method, which consists of a probe that touches the skin, eliminates the inconvenience and expense of skin lesion diagnosis. It was developed at the University of Rochester by optics professor Jannick Rolland, who presented her findings in February at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

A prototype device developed at the University of Rochester can take high-resolution images under the skin’s surface without removing the skin. Researchers say that it may eliminate the need for many skin cancer biopsies. Images courtesy of J. Adam Fenster, University of Rochester.

To eliminate the need for an MRI, Rolland developed a small device that can image a suspicious mole right in the doctor’s office. The liquid lens of the setup, which was created specifically for optical coherence microscopy, is based on a droplet of water that changes shape when the electrical field surrounding it is altered and causes the focus of the lens to change. The probe can take thousands of pictures focused at different depths below the skin’s surface.

A close-up of the prototype device.

Combining the images captured with the liquid lens, the scientists created fully in-focus images of human skin tissue up to 1 mm deep, including important tissue structures. Because the method uses near-IR light instead of ultrasound, the images are produced with micron-scale, rather than millimeter-scale, resolution.

Rolland has successfully tested the process in vivo on human skin, and several papers in peer-reviewed journals have been published. The next step is to start using it in clinical research environments to assess its ability to discriminate between different types of lesions.

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