The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa is one of the leading scientific and technology research, development and implementation organisations in Africa. It undertakes directed research and development for socio-economic growth.

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September 2011


CSIR laser researcher’s initial results hold key to confined cancer diagnosis

Senior researcher, Aletta Karsten, at the CSIR National Laser Centre says skin reflectance measurement results obtained from the lab holds a key to non-invasive skin cancer diagnosis and treatment applications. 

“Skin cancer is becoming a problem in South Africa across the board,” she says, adding that initial studies show positive, but not conclusive, results from recent measurements where she measured different absorption spectra.  She is working in the visible and near-infrared spectrum and according to her, this has the best penetration to the skin and these are the wavelengths used in most laser applications.

Karsten is conducting painstaking research that, when it comes into fruition, could lead to non-invasive and quick measurements for skin cancer diagnostics. “This research is aimed at any laser-based skin treatment such as skin cancer; hair removal; and cell growth stimulation.”

Simply put, she is measuring the amount of light that is reflected back form the outer skin layers and then through calculations, determines the absorbance in the human skin. “Laser penetrates less to a dark skin than it would in a lighter pigmentation skin in the visible light area,” says Karsten. “If, for instance, researchers want to come up with laser-based solutions for skin cancer treatment, they need to know how much a certain skin tone will absorb.”
Karsten takes the skin cancer problem very serious and says, “I want to make sure that our methods and techniques are working so that we can crack this problem.”

She is now waiting for ethics approval for a study on more individuals with different skin tones. “This is a proof of principle and we still have a long way to go,” she says.

Her project forms part of laser light interaction study for both diagnostics and treatment at the CSIR.

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