TAIPEI, Taiwan.—Apollo Medical Optics Inc. (Taipei, Taiwan) aims to revolutionize skin cancer detection without the need for invasive biopsies by using a single-crystal sapphire and yttrium aluminium garnet crystalline fibers—surrounded by glass and a flexible polymer cladding—to look-through the skin and image suspicious skin anomalies non-invasively, instead of taking a skin sample and risk releasing malignant cancer cells into the bloodstream.
The current prototype, using single-crystal sapphire at its core, is being integrated into a desktop unit that physicians can use in the office to identify skin cancer in a matter of minutes, determine its size and if small enough possibly even treating it (by excision) the very same day.
"We are hoping to reverse the escalating costs of treating cancer with noninvasive imagers of living tissues—in vivo—with a very high resolution, allowing doctors of make see-and-treat decisions without the expense of in vitro testing with biopsies," Sheng-Lung Huang, chief technology officer (CTO) at Apollo Medical Optics told EE Times. Huang invented the single-crystal scanning technique at his post as a professor at the National Taiwan University (NTU).
Apollo Medical Electronics recently landed raised $3.43 million in a series A funding, after licensing the technology from NTU for $1 million plus royalties, according to chief operating officer (COO) David Ma told EE Times in an exclusive interview. He has already lined up a service deal with the Unilever which has offices and personal worldwide and the corporate mission of helping more than 1 billion people worldwide to take action that improves their health and well-being by 2020.
(Above) Allen Lin, CEO, demonstrates the first complete prototype of the Apollo Medical Optics desktop non-invasive coherence tomography (OCT) machine. (SOURCE: Apollo Medical, used with permission)
"This is only the beginning of a transformation of medical dependency on large expensive diagnostic tools, such a magnetic resonance imagers [MRIs], to small portable diagnostic tools that are not only more affordable, but which an be used in remote locations which are not serviced well with modern medical treatments today," Ma told EE Times.
Unclad yttrium aluminium garnet crystalline cores for optical probing beneath the skin. (SOURCE: NTU)
The key to the technique is its single-cell resolution, which enables them to be easily identified as normal, benign or malignant, using the tiny single-crystal sapphire fiber core. Other single-crystal cores are also being explored-such as yttrium aluminium garnet—to enhance resolution further for use in other affordable noninvasive desktop optical diagnostic tools for doctors.
Cross-section in vivo scan of human skin where the dermis above (yellow dashed line) and the bottom and epidermis layer (below green dashed line) are both resolved at the cellular level. (SOURCE: NTU, used with permission)
How it works
Though the single-crystal core is the key to its function, the actual method is called optical coherence tomography (OCT) which is completely noninvasive since no tissues are damaged by a visible light wavelengths. OCT also uses no potentially harmful isotopes to identify tissues—called label free—while still providing high-lateral and -depth resolutions with a broad bandwidth light that provides detailed spectroscopic information that allows detailed characterization of tissues, according to Huang.
The researchers were are also able to record videos with sub-micron resolution to observe the proper functionality, make morphological recognition and perform parametric analysis of three-dimensional tissues in vivo with sub-cellular resolution of each cells nucleus. As a result, its OCT technique can characterize the functions being performed by the cell thus facilitating early disease diagnosis.
Apollo Medical Optics received seven awards, so far, in 2015: the Innovation Star Award (First Place) in biomedical category of the MOEA Accelerator Program, First Place of NCTU Venture Lab Forum, the Golden Torch Award, Championship of the China Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, Championship in biomedical category of the 5th China Dark Horse Contest
— R. Colin Johnson, Advanced Technology Editor, EE Times