We’ve heard of surgeons using a SpectroPen during tumor removal surgeries, but now Californian scientists are shedding light on cancer, literally, in the hopes of finding a new cure for skin cancer. The team of scientists from the University of California, Irvine are currently developing new techniques to image cancerous lesions using LEDs, with the hope of then being able to treat skin cancer using photodynamic therapy (PDT). The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has approved PDT for the treatment of esophageal and lung cancers. The technique involves shining light onto a tumor after injecting photosensitizing (light-absorbing) chemicals into it. These chemicals then use the light energy to create oxygen radicals, which have the ability to destroy cancer cells.

The team at UC Irvine, led by Rolf Saager and Dr. Kristen Kelly, believe that PDT also has great potential in the treatment of skin cancer. To date their biggest hurdle has been creating a sufficient imaging technique that would allow them to target and monitor the effectiveness of PDT when applied to skin cancer patients.

Their primary focus has been on developing an "advanced spatial frequency domain imaging technique" with a spectrum of five different colors of LEDs that illuminates skin with differentiating patterns. These patterns then have the ability to change depending on the structure of the tumor and skin pigments. Their new imaging technique was able to successfully map an accurate biochemistry of tumors or tissues.

"Through this imaging modality, it is now possible to assess how the therapeutic light will travel throughout the affected tissue, quantify the drug present within the lesion and monitor its efficacy during treatment," explained Saager.

To back up their findings, the scientists tested the imaging technique on a range of skin cancers prior to treatment. They successfully produced images with a resolution of 30 microns after 5-10seconds. They are now confident that this technique will provide physicians with a better map of tumors and thus optimize their ability to treat the cancer with PDT. The UC Irvine team will now continue their ongoing research and closely monitor tissue dynamics during PDT treatment on various skin cancers.

They will be presenting their finding at the Frontiers in Optics 2010 is OSA’s 94th Annual Meeting.