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New Biosensor Detects Skin Cancer With THz Waves

Researchers have used terahertz (THz) waves to create a novel biosensor with extraordinary sensitivity to identify skin cancer, potentially opening the door to earlier and simpler diagnosis.

New Biosensor Detects Skin Cancer With THz Waves
(a) Demonstration of the flexibility of the biosensor. (b-c) fabricated metasurface biosensor under an optical microscope, (d) cultured 3D collagen gel models of BCC in 24-well plates, and (e) a close-up view. Image Credit: Shohreh Nourinovin et al./IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering

The work, published in the IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, shows that multidisciplinary teams from Queen Mary University of London and the University of Glasgow have collaborated to make a substantial advancement in the early detection of cancer.

Traditional methods for detecting skin cancer often involve expensive, time-consuming CT, PET scans, and invasive higher frequencies technologies. Our biosensor offers a non-invasive and highly efficient solution, leveraging the unique properties of THz waves – a type of radiation with lower energy than X-Rays, thus safe for humans – to detect subtle changes in cell characteristics.

Dr. Shohreh Nourinovin, Postdoctoral Research Associate and Study First Author, Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, Queen Mary University of London

The design of the biosensor is the primary innovation. Its tiny, asymmetric resonators on a flexible substrate allow it to detect minute alterations in a cell's characteristics. This device analyzes several parameters, such as resonance frequency, transmission magnitude, and a figure known as “Full Width at Half Maximum” (FWHM), in contrast to conventional methods that only consider refractive index.

This all-encompassing method gives a complete image of the tissue, making it possible to measure the tissue's degree of malignancy and distinguish between healthy and malignant cells more accurately.

Even at varying concentrations, the biosensor demonstrated the ability to distinguish between basal cell carcinoma (BCC) cells and normal skin cells during testing. There is a great deal of promise for better patient outcomes from the ability to identify cancer in its early stages.

Dr. Nourinovin says, “The implications of this study extend far beyond skin cancer detection. This technology could be used for early detection of various cancers and other diseases, like Alzheimer’s, with potential applications in resource-limited settings due to its portability and affordability.”

The path of Dr. Nourinovin’s research was not without difficulties. Dr. Nourinovin's research initially focused on using THz spectroscopy for cancer analysis, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to a temporary halt. This disappointment inspired Dr. Nourinovin to investigate the possibilities of THz metasurfaces—a fresh strategy that opened a new line of inquiry for research.

Integrating terahertz imaging technology into this type of flexible, portable, reusable sensor could make cancer screening a quicker and more comfortable procedure for patients. We’re excited to build on the potential of this breakthrough technology with future collaborative research.”

Qammer H. Abbasi, Co-director and Professor, Communication Sensing & Imaging Hub, James Watt School of Engineering, University of Glasgow

Despite the initial difficulties, the potential impact of this technology kept us motivated. We believe this biosensor has the potential to save countless lives by enabling early detection and intervention for various cancers,” says Professor Akram Alomainy, Head of the Antennas & Electromagnetics Research Group at Queen Mary.

Journal Reference:

Nourinovin, S., et al. (2024) Highly Sensitive Terahertz Meta surface Based on Electromagnetically Induced Transparency-Like Resonance in Detection of Skin Cancer Cells. IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering.

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