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Helmholtz Prize for development of new method for diagnosing skin cancer

Helmholtz Prize for development of new method for diagnosing skin cancer

Three men sit in front of tables with instruments in a laboratory. Three men sit in front of tables with instruments in a laboratory. Three men sit in front of tables with instruments in a laboratory.
Physicists from the Hannover Centre for Optical Technologies at Leibniz Universität Hannover receive the Helmholtz Prize 2024 for the development of a new skin cancer scanner (from left): Prof. Dr Bernhard Roth, Anatoly Fedorov Kukk, and Di Wu. The other winner of the Hanover team is not in the picture: Felix Scheling.
Two men in suits stand in front of a modern building entrance. Two men in suits stand in front of a modern building entrance. Two men in suits stand in front of a modern building entrance.
Dr Rüdiger Panzer (left) and Prof Dr Steffen Emmert from Rostock University Medicine are the research project's collaboration partners.

Diagnosing skin cancer painlessly with an external scan rather than a tissue sample and a scalpel – this is the vision of a joint research team from Leibniz University Hannover (LUH) and the University Medical Centre Rostock. The team has now successfully made possible the early and safe diagnosis of malignant skin changes using three-dimensional imaging. The groups working with Prof. Dr. Bernhard Roth (LUH, Hannover Centre for Optical Technologies and the PhoenixD Cluster of Excellence) and Prof. Dr. Steffen Emmert (University Medical Centre Rostock) have now received the 2024 Helmholtz Prize for their skin cancer scanner. The 20,000-euro prize is awarded for precision measurements in the area of fundamental research and in applied metrology.

In the course of joint work conducted over several years, the interdisciplinary team from physics and medicine has developed a system that enables the three-dimensional imaging of the skin structure, including the identification of the so-called “depth of invasion” and the benign or malignant nature of skin lesions. In everyday medical practice, it has so far been necessary to surgically remove a tissue sample for microscopic examination, particularly to diagnose melanoma. The new system enables a non-invasive diagnostic procedure for melanoma – quickly and using an external laser scan.

Four different measurement procedures have been combined in one measurement device to make this possible: optical coherence tomography (OCT), Raman spectroscopy (RS), photoacoustic tomography (PAT) and high-frequency ultrasonic imaging (US). The primarily laser-based system enables measurements under the legally stipulated exposure limits for human skin and was tested on several dozen patients in preclinical studies. Once there is enough initial data, an AI software programme will be trained to diagnose the skin changes in real time in a clinical setting. The next step will then be to undertake the necessary clinical trials over several years. The goal is to establish the system and have it certified as a medical product so that it can be utilised in practice in the near future. The earlier melanoma is discovered, the better the chances of recovery: when it is diagnosed in the early stages, more than 90 per cent of those afflicted survive the first five years following the initiation of treatment. The new laser scanner is intended to make an important contribution in this regard.

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Roth and his team have been studying the optical detection of skin conditions and integrated sensor technology in life sciences for several years. He also heads the work group on precision metrology within the LUH’s Cluster of Excellence “PhoenixD: Photonics, Optics, Engineering - Innovation across Disciplines”, which is studying the digital optics of the future.

The prize
The Helmholtz Prize is of particular importance in the world of metrology (the science of measurement). It is awarded by the Helmholtz Fund every two years for outstanding scientific and technological research in the area of precision measurements in physics, chemistry and medicine. The prize in each of the two categories “fundamental research” and “applied metrology” is 20,000 euros. The Helmholtz Fonds e.V. is a non-profit association dedicated to supporting scientific progress in metrology. The association carries the name Helmholtz in honour of the researcher Hermann von Helmholtz, the co-founder and first president of the Physikalisch-Technischen Reichsanstalt. The research group from Hannover and Rostock has received the 2024 prize for the applied metrology category. The prize for fundamental research has been awarded to the University of Konstanz for a project on electron microscopy. Both prizes will be officially awarded on 28 August 2024 at the XXIV IMEKO World Congress in Hamburg.

Note to editors:

For further information, please contact Prof. Dr. Bernhard Roth, Hannover Centre for Optical Technologies at LUH (tel. +49 511 762 17907, email: bernhard.roth@hot.uni-hannover.de).