Lung cancer. (photo: The Confidential)
Many poets have compared the mole on the back of a loved one to the sky. It is a good metaphor, without a doubt, but what neither of them thinks is that the two concepts can be related. So much so that a software used in astronomy to track the stars has become a perfect ally for the detection of skin cancer.
This is MoleGazer, a program resulting from a collaboration between scientists from the University of Southampton and Oxford University Hospital. There, typical astronomical instruments are used to detect changes in the lunar evolution of patients at risk of skin cancer, treating them like stars.RELATED
As the study authors explain in a press release, photographs of moles on the skin were tracked in the same way as images of the sky. In this way, the evolutionary patterns of these spots obtained can give clues about their imminent malignancy. This is not the first time astronomical instruments have been used to diagnose cancer. But each new software is even better than the previous one.
Astronomy and oncology, what do they have in common?
The answer to this question is obviously simple: nothing. But somehow there are commonalities between these two industries, so that would be a wrong answer.
The first procedures brought together light-based oncologists, biomedical doctors, and astrophysicists. This is useful for detecting various astronomical objects. For example, exoplanets can be detected by frequent fluctuations in the brightness of their host star.
Very useful information can also be obtained by observing the behavior of light as it passes through the clouds of gas and dust so common in the universe. And all this is very useful in cancer research.
For example, it has been found that early-stage breast tumors are often accompanied by the presence of small calcium deposits in the breast. These are the initial differences to detect. However, it is possible to use typical astronomical instruments that analyze the change in wavelength of a light beam as it passes through an object. This object can be a chest or found in the sky.
(photo: The MoleGazer Team)
In addition, treatments are being investigated that include the use of a light-activated antitumor drug, accompanied by gold nanoparticles. Therefore, the latter enhances the effect even more when it is heated, also due to the presence of light.
This treatment, which also uses instruments from astronomy, has been used experimentally against skin cancer. And exactly this type of cancer can now be diagnosed with software originally designed for stars.
Moles that turn into stars to detect skin cancer
People at risk for skin cancer usually have photos showing all of their moles. They are regularly checked by a dermatologist for suspicious changes.
But this takes time, and besides, the work of qualified personnel is not always quickly available. So while these doctors are still needed, an early examination funded by astronomy could be done.
Photos captured by the James Webb Telescope. (photo: NASA/Google Arts & Culture)
With MoleGazer, these photos are checked for suspicious changes, no matter how small. When it comes to the stars, even the smallest change can be a sign of something big. For this reason, this highly sensitive software is currently performing well.
Although everything is in the initial stages. However, the authors of the project looked to the future. And it is that, as they explained during a session of the National Astronomical Conference of the United Kingdom, their next step will be “to create a map of how benign moles become melanoma”.
So they can help get “the earliest possible diagnoses, as early identification is key to better outcomes.” Without a doubt, the result of the combination of astronomy and oncology is amazing. I hope they have more soon.
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