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Rose-Hulman Ventures Helps Improve Cancer-Fighting Skin Biopsies

Wednesday, February 03, 2016
RHV Shave Biopsy Device

Cutting Edge: Engineers and student interns at Rose-Hulman Ventures, working with doctors at Indiana University School of Medicine, have developed a device to standardize skin biopsies, giving patients quicker and often more complete test results.

Rose-Hulman Ventures has created a new weapon in the war on skin cancer that strives to save money, time, and lives.

Surgeons and pathologists at the Indiana University School of Medicine sought to create a device that makes skin biopsies easier and more uniform. If successful, the idea would cut the time patients must wait to learn whether skin lesions are cancerous.

That, in turn, could save lives.

"That's what motivated us," says Luke Gutwein, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at IU.

Engineers and student interns at Rose-Hulman Ventures developed a key component for the device, introducing the idea of using suction through a vacuum tube to lift the skin to a uniform level before the biopsy is taken, according to Gutwein.

Currently, dermatologists use a scalpel for biopsies. But, because each dermatologist and every situation is unique, there is often a variation in the depth of the biopsy provided to pathologists, sometimes leaving them without enough tissue for complete results. If biopsies aren't deep enough, it may be difficult to tell how far a skin cancer has invaded, Gutwein explains.

"Depth is critical," he says. "If it's not thick enough, you can compromise care and delay treatment."

Faced with this predicament, IU physicians got the idea for a handheld device, about the length and thickness of a permanent marker, which any doctor could easily use during a routine office visit. After consulting with the Indiana University Research and Technology Corporation, the IU physicians asked Rose-Hulman Ventures to develop a device prototype.

The finished device features a small disposable rotating blade at the end of a suction tube, explains Barry Davignon, a Rose-Hulman Ventures project manager. A vacuum creates suction through the tube that lifts the patient's skin just before the blade quickly takes a sample.

The prototype went through several improvements before reaching the final version, adds Nathan Stewart, a senior mechanical engineering major who was the main student intern working on the project. There were about 10 different versions developed over the spring and summer.

Learn more about the project here.

If the product development cycle continues as planned, Gutwein believes that the new device could be available for use by doctors within a couple of years.

"I have great hope for it," he says.