No, this is not a suspicion of melanoma based on looking at the skin with a dermascope, but actual DIAGNOSIS via a special laser microscope. This groundbreaking technology is called multiphoton microscopy.

Not only can melanoma be detected with this new technology, but so can basal cell carcinoma, the most common skin cancer (and the most common overall cancer).

The technology comes from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and has the “potential to make detection of skin cancers extremely rapid at very early stages,” explains Behrouz Shabestari, PhD, in the report, who’s the director of the NIBIB Program in Optical Imaging and Spectroscopy.

Conventional Method of Diagnosing Melanoma
• Doctor removes part of or the entire suspicious lesion.

• The tissue is sent to a lab where a dermapathologist will view it under a microscope.

• The results can take days to come back.

Multiphoton Microscopy
• Patient’s skin is viewed through the special microscope.

• Diagnosis is made within minutes.

How does this work?
Mitochondria are structures found in all cells and are responsible for generating energy. When melanoma is present, these little powerhouse organelles behave differently.

Inside a mitochondrion is a molecule called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH).

NADH can be detected with multiphoton microscopy. The laser microscope can show at very high resolution individual cells—without a pathologist having to thinly slice them for viewing as is done via the conventional biopsy.

“Mitochondria are spread throughout the cell in a web like pattern,” says Irene Georgakoudi, PhD, Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tufts, in the report.

A different pattern with the mitochondria, however, is revealed with the cancerous cells, says Dr. Georgakoudi. The mitochondria show in “clumps or clusters.”

Study Results
• The technology correctly identified cancer in the 10 subjects who had melanoma or basal cell carcinoma.

• The technology also correctly revealed healthy tissue in the four subjects who did not have skin cancer.

A larger-scale study is needed to see if this 100 percent accuracy extends to larger numbers of people.

The technology may be available in doctors’ offices within five years, but the caveat is that the laser costs $100,000. Hopefully there will be a way to significantly reduce this cost so that melanoma can be diagnosed within minutes without a biopsy.