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Oct 17, 2014 06:41 AM EDT

Duke Researchers Design Hi-Tech Camera For Accurate Skin Cancer Diagnosis


Duke University researchers have developed a high-resolution camera that is capable of taking snapshots of the entire human body. The "gigapixel whole-body photographic camera" can therefore help doctors spot skin cancer early and save lives.

Melanoma is the fifth most common type of cancer in the United States. It is the deadliest form of skin cancer that causes over 75 percent of skin-cancer deaths. The condition is curable if detected early.

The researchers said that whole-body photography was earlier used to detect melanomas  and non-dangerous "stable" lesions. But the resolution of the camera was restricted.  

a commercial camera with a wide-angle lens can also capture the entire body. But, such cameras lack the resolution required to closely examine a tiny spot. Dermatologists normally scan lesions with digital dermatoscopy - a technique to evaluate the colors and microstructures of suspicious skins not visible to the naked eyes. The need for two images increases costs to the medical industry.

The gigapixel camera, containing 34 microcameras is similar to a telescope and its eyepieces in structure. The 34 microcameras are set in a "dome" to right abnormalities and form a continuous image of the scene. The exposure time and focus for each microcamera can be adjusted independently.

"The camera is designed to find lesions potentially indicating skin cancers on patients at an earlier stage than current skin examination techniques," said Daniel Marks, one of the co-authors on the paper, in a press release. "Normally a dermatologist examines either a small region of the skin at high resolution or a large region at low resolution, but a gigapixel image doesn't require a compromise between the two." 

The exposure time and focus for each microcamera can be adjusted independently, and a computer can do a preliminary examination of the images to determine if any areas require future attention by the specialists.

Marks pointed out that although the resolution of the gigapixel camera is not as high as the best dermatoscope, it is significantly better than normal photography, allows for a larger imaging area than a dermatoscope and could be used for telemedicine, which could make the routine screening available to a larger number of people, even in remote locations.

The gigapixel imaging technology is based on the multiscale camera design, which is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program "Advanced Wide Field-of-View Architectures for Image Reconstruction and Exploitation."

Though the camera will still have to prove effective in clinical trials before becoming routinely available to patients, the researchers have gathered enough preliminary data on a healthy volunteer to demonstrate that it has adequate resolution and the field of view needed for skin disease screening. The next step, they say, is to test how well it works in the clinic.

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