Early Detection of Skin Cancer

About 23,000 people get skin cancer every year in Germany, and around 3,000 die from it annually. Up to now, examinations for early detection of skin cancer have been highly dependent on the experience of the investigating physician: biopsies, i.e. surgical removals of tissue suspected of tumors, are usually carried out exclusively on the basis of visual controls. Some malignant melanomas are overlooked or not detected early enough.

Steffen Nothelfer (left), Dr Karl Stock (Source: AiF)

Ulm scientists have now developed a novel method for early detection of skin cancer, which makes diagnostics more precise, cost-effective and simpler. Using a hyperspectral camera system combined with structured lighting, precursors of malignant melanoma and the smallest differences in the microstructure of the tissue can be reliably detected.

For their achievements, Dr Karl Stock and Steffen Nothelfer, MSc, from the Institute for Laser Technologies in Medicine and Measurement Technology at Ulm University, were awarded the 2020 Otto von Guericke Prize of the AiF in Cologne. The project was carried out by the AiF member Research Association For Fine Mechanics, Optics and Medical Technology, FOM. The prize is awarded once a year for outstanding achievements in the field of the industrial collective research and is endowed with 10,000 euros. This pre-competitive research is organized in the innovation network of the AiF and its one hundred research collaborations and funded publicly by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy BMWi.

“We have developed a device to help the doctor detect black skin cancer,” Stock explains the results of the research. “This allows us to accurately determine the optical properties of a tissue at each point and to conclude that tissue changes are different.” His colleague Nothelfer describes the procedure: “First of all, we illuminate the skin in different colors and with different stripe patterns during the examination. Simply put, we project certain patterns onto the skin and then capture the scattered light with a sensitive camera.” From deviations or distortions of the original pattern, changes in optical tissue properties, even in depth, can be deduced very precisely by means of evaluation algorithms. These may be the first indications of a pathological tissue disorder. “First and foremost, the device benefits patients, because the earlier the melanoma is detected, the higher the patient’s chances of survival,” Stock concludes.


Jean-Michel Asfour, managing director of Dioptic GmbH, sees today’s award-winning project as an initiator for the development of new and innovative measuring systems in other areas, such as food control or the paper and textile industry. “Especially in combination with artificial intelligence and machine learning, it opens up great market potential for companies like us,” Asfour is convinced. Dioptic was involved as an industrial partner in the committee of the project.

The managing director of the FOM, Dr Markus Safaricz, is impressed by the achievements of the Ulm team. “The researchers have managed to develop a measuring system that has already made its way to the clinic at the end of the project. Even beyond the fight against cancer, the application possibilities are extremely diverse with only minimal investment effort. For example, partial results led to the development of an LED radiation unit for germ killing, while others will be used in 3D printing methods in the future.” According to Safaricz, the measuring system is particularly suitable for small and medium-sized enterprises and opens up new, innovative business models for them. (Source: AiF)

Link: Otto von Guericke-Preis, AiF – Arbeitsgemeinschaft industrieller Forschungsvereinigungen „Otto von Guericke“ e.V., Cologne, GermanyBiomedizinische Optik, Institut für Lasertechnologien in der Medizin und Messtechnik, Universität Ulm, Ulm, GermanyDioptic GmbH, Weinheim, Germany

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