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Skin cancer tool replaces biopsy

Verisante's homegrown melanoma detection device okayed for sale in Canada.

Verisante Aura

(Photo: Verisante Technology Inc.)

Verisante Aura in use

(Photo: Verisante Technology Inc.)

Fall is not a time when many Canadians are worrying about skin cancer. But Verisante Technology Inc. of Richmond, B.C., had reason to celebrate recently when its Verisante Aura, a device that detects melanoma and other cancers in a quick and non-invasive way, was approved for sale by Health Canada.

“This is a defining milestone for our company,” president and CEO Thomas Braun said in a release. The Aura uses an optical technology, Raman spectroscopy, to biochemically analyze the skin, providing immediate results. It not only spots melanoma but also basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. Together they represent 96% of all skin cancer cases.

Right now such cancers are usually confirmed by way of a biopsy—a doctor literally removes tissue and sends it to a lab for analysis, which can take days. The Aura can be used by anyone trained to use it, and it can scan large numbers of lesions quickly. The cost of treating skin cancer exceeds half a billion dollars a year in Canada, so there’s an opportunity for significant cost and time savings.

In a 2008 test at Vancouver General Hospital, the Aura caught all 34 cancerous lesions out of 274 tested and later confirmed by biopsy. The technology was developed by dermatologists at the B.C. Cancer Agency, which is due to receive a $120,000 milestone payment as a result of the Health Canada approval. TSX Venture-listed Verisante is aiming for Australian and EU approval next, followed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The company is also working on an imaging device for early detection of lung, colon and cervical cancer.