An acoustic sensor, as small as a pen, capable of detecting the sound generated by moles, to detect a suspected melanoma early. The project of the mini probe that “listens” to the moles for the early detection of skin cancers is already at an advanced stage of study. It bears the signature of a group of young researchers from theUniversity of Milan-Bicocca and was selected in the third edition of Biunicrowd, the alternative finance program promoted to allow students, former students, professors, researchers and employees of the University to carry out innovative projects and business ideas through fundraising campaigns. The probe that detects melanomas thanks to sound analysis is called “paMELA“(Photoacoustic Melanoma Detector) and to achieve it, the Lombard university has launched the crowdfunding campaign starting today on Low Productions an Italian crowdfunding and social innovation platform. Yes, because the photoacoustic probe will be low cost: it will cost 8 thousand euros.
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by Tina Simoniello
“The idea of the ‘paMELA’ project started from the observation of the studies concerning the proton beams used in radiotherapy to treat tumors – he explains Elia Arturo Vallicelli researcher at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics and project coordinator – in contact with cancer, in fact, protons emit sounds that can be heard with very sophisticated equipment. So we said to ourselves, why not use the same technique for prevention, for example in dermatology to look for melanomas? That is, the acoustic sensor connected to the small laser is able to listen to the different sounds originating from the moles, as they are illuminated “. And how do you distinguish the sound emitted by a mole from that of a melanoma? “It’s like hearing the sound of a violin from that of a piano. They are different – explains Vallicelli, who adds – the laser will reconstruct the 3D structure, observing the parts hidden under the superficial layers of the skin. By studying the intensity of the acoustic signals (ultrasounds), in fact, it will be possible to obtain information on the density of melanin, on the shape and, in particular, on the thickness of the mole or melanoma. The acoustic signal will be processed by an analogue electronics that will allow it to be amplified and converted into digital; a data processing software, on the other hand, will extract the information from the sound and allow the operator to view the parameters of the suspected melanoma ”. But what does the sound generate? “The laser placed on the mole by the doctor creates a variation in skin pressure which in turn produces a sound, imperceptible to the ear, but which instead propagates up to the microphone which, in turn, decodes which type of mole it belongs to ”
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“Of course – explains Vallicelli, team leader of the ‘paMELA’ project – the research was born from the Proton Sound Detector study of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN), but we have combined the skills of the Microelectronics groups (for the design probe electronics) and the Biophysics group (for experimental validation with biological samples) of the University of Milano Bicocca. Being a multidisciplinary project because it ranges from acoustics to electronics and medicine, we have put together the skills of different groups. Not only. Unlike the instruments on the market today based on the photoacoustic effect, which must adapt to the observation of a wide range of biological systems, the development of a compact probe specialized in the detection of melanomai it allows to reduce costs and to optimize the diagnostic capacity. Our goal is to deliver in the hands of the dermatologist an instrument capable of maximizing the accuracy of the diagnosis and subsequent therapeutic efficacy ».
The prevention of skin cancer in Italy: the numbers
“It all started with a mole that I have never checked”. Conversations with the dermatologist often begin like this: due to underestimation or fear we never decide to undergo regular checks for moles. Still, the skin melanoma it is a reality, today more than ever: cases of diagnosis are increasing all over the world. In short, the sun is good (for the mood, bones, lungs) but too much can be harmful.
And in one year the new cases of melanoma in Italy increased by 20%, from 12,300 in 2019 to almost 14,900 in 2020. On the one hand, the availability of better tools for diagnosis and greater participation of citizens in campaigns awareness raising for the control of moles. On the other hand, the consequences in adults of incorrect exposure to the sun as adolescents and the use of sun lamps, inserted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in the category of maximum risk of carcinogenic substances, are increasingly observed equal to cigarette smoke. In our country, melanoma is the second most frequent cancer in men under 50 and the third in women in that age group. The risk of onset is linked to genetic, phenotypic and environmental factors.
The rules to follow are simple: you must not expose yourself to the sun in the central hours of the day, the protective cream must always be applied and sun lamps must be absolutely avoided. And every year it is necessary to undergo the control of moles by the dermatologist. The 5-year survival from diagnosis is high, equal to 87% (89% women and 85% men). And almost 170,000 citizens (169,900) live in our country after the discovery of the disease. If detected early and eliminated with proper surgical excision during the initial phase