Say you have a dark growth on your skin. It might be just a mole. Or it might be melanoma, which can be deadly, but is also treatable in the early stages. How can you tell if it’s something to worry about?
That’s a tougher question than you might think. You can (and should) ask your doctor, who may decide it needs a biopsy — in other words, to cut a piece of it, fix it on a slide and stain it, and have an expert look at it under a microscope.
Even then, if you show the same tissue to seven pathologists, you will likely get different opinions. Looking at the fixed cells isn’t a great way to determine whether melanoma is present.
A group of researchers in a lab at Duke University want to provide pathologists with additional tools that show the spectroscopic response of different types of melanin (the pigment responsible for the dark color of both moles and freckles). Jesse Wilson presented a report on their work at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics in Baltimore last week. Read more about it in an article I wrote at Optics & Photonics News: