Doctoral students explore alternative methods to detect skin cancer

Early diagnosis is crucial to being able to treat skin cancer before it spreads. But are there simpler methods that don’t require taking a traditional tissue sample? Doctoral students from the University of Malmö have tested and explored various alternative methods with promising results.

Visual changes in birthmarks may indicate skin cancer. If you have a lot of birthmarks, it can be difficult to keep track of the changes. Today, the diagnosis of skin cancer is based on a skin biopsy of a suspected lesion. At the same time, we know that many skin biopsies today are performed unnecessarily. We wanted to investigate whether other tools and methods could be used for early diagnosis. »

Skaidre Jankovskaja, PhD student, University of Malmö

In their recently presented theses, she and fellow doctoral student Maxim Morin investigated whether it is possible to detect, extract and collect skin cancer biomarkers – without taking traditional tissue samples.

Jankovskaja focused on potential LMV biomarkers, low molecular weight molecules that may be indicators of cancer. In her studies, she investigated the ability of molecules to penetrate from deep layers of the skin to the surface and also compared how molecules move through the skin relative to each other.

“We wanted to see if the composition of LMV biomarkers collected from the surface of the skin reflected the composition in the deeper layers of the skin. , called HMV molecules. , while LMV molecules are less explored.

“LMV biomarkers can penetrate the skin within hours whereas it can take several weeks for HMV biomarkers. LMV biomarkers are exposed faster on the surface of the skin, which is essential for early diagnosis of skin cancer “, she says.

In his thesis, Morin focused on the actual collection of LMV molecules.

“During the tests, we applied different materials to the subjects, such as a gel, lipid-based formulations or a starch film. We left the material on the skin for two hours and then removed it to see how many molecules we could collect,” he said.

“The most important conclusion from our studies is that we can actually detect these small molecules on the surface of the skin, that we can collect them non-invasively, and that they also give a picture of what they look like in the deeper skin layers where skin cancer develops, says Jankovskaja.

The tests were carried out on healthy people. In the pursuit of research, the next important step will therefore be to carry out studies with subjects suffering from cancer. Then the results can be compared to see if there is a correlation in the result between the new methods and a biopsy on the same person.

“There is a growing need to simplify diagnostics and shorten the wait time. Here we see great potential because it is much faster to get answers if you look at LMV molecules, in our tests they could be studied after only a few minutes”, concludes Morin. .