SPUR 2021: Non-invasive diagnosis of skin lesions: a new window into melanoma cancer


Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death globally and was responsible for 9.6 million deaths in 2018. From all types of cancer, skin cancer is the most common cancer worldwide with approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. diagnosed every day. Despite the relevance, most dermatologists perform simple visual examination of skin lesions. Literature shows, however, that the accuracy of clinical diagnosis of skin cancer is far from 100%. The consequences of this lack of diagnostic certainty are, on the one hand, life-threatening skin cancer may be missed and, on the other, as a safety precaution, non cancerous lesions are unnecessarily surgically removed. To address this worldwide health challenge, we have created a new objective and quantitative diagnostic tool for non-visual diagnosis of skin cancer with potential to provide immediate impact to patient care, dramatically improve survival and reduce costs to the healthcare system on a global scale. By gathering and analyzing precise and localized electrical measurements in the skin, we can obtain reliable information of the condition of the skin unavailable through any other method. Through this simple and painless procedure, the physician will be able to objectively evaluate suspicious lesions prior to excision.

Student Role

The student will have the opportunity to participate in a dynamic translational research project under the supervision of Dr. Sanchez. Activities that the student will develop include providing support for the collection of experimental data following established procedures, maintaining daily logs/basic records of methodologies and test results, using databases, summarize data and interpret results using descriptive statistics and basic hypothesis testing. The student may write standard operating procedures for documentation and make informal presentations of these procedures and results to the lab members.

Student Learning Outcomes & Benefits

At the completion of the program, the student will have acquired skills in:

  1. Decision Making: Ability to make decisions that are based on specific instructions, standard practices and established procedures which generally require little or no supervision.
  2. Problem Solving: Ability to address problems generally solved by following clear directions and procedures and by identifying opportunities for process improvements
  3. Independence of Action: Ability to follow general instructions and procedures as provided.
  4. Written Communications: Ability to communicate clearly and effectively with lab members, nurses and physicians.
  5. Oral Communications: Ability to follow basic safety instructions and take direction from the supervisor; communicate effectively with medical center staff in response to routine questions.
  6. Knowledge: Ability to demonstrate basic knowledge of fundamental concepts, practices and procedures with the ability to use them in routine situations.
  7. Team Work: Ability to demonstrate a positive attitude and interact respectfully with other lab members and medical center staff to offer ideas, identify issues and obtain information.

Remote Contingency Plan

In the event that part or the completeness of the project must be done remotely, the student will still be able to participate in the study by providing online support with the curation and statistical analysis of existing and new gathered experimental data, data management through an online database, and presentation of the results in lab meetings. Mentoring activities will be carried out virtually through online meetings.

Benjamin Sanchez Terrones
Assistant Professor

Electrical & Computer Engineering
College of Engineering

The mentoring activities through the proposed patient-oriented research include:

  1. We will have scheduled hour-long weekly meetings to discuss progress on the research as well as problems and their resolution. These meetings will take place in my office or lab.
  2. The student will participate in our biweekly group meetings and present his/her findings to the entire lab; other members will also present allowing for interaction among team members and ongoing supervision of activities, including how they fit into the broader scheme of the planned research.
  3. I will help ensure the student is handling all human subject data appropriately according to existing HIPAA guidances while also helping fully educate him on standard protocols for the protection of human subject data.
  4. Given my long experience in patient-oriented research, I will also work with the student in this area, including data interpretation.
  5. I will mentor the student with slides preparation, with special attention to the human subjects research components and standard statistical analyses.
  6. Finally, I will ensure that this entire plan is dynamic, with a strong emphasis on increasing independence in both the undertaking of the scientific work and the overall running of his part of the research program. My goal will be to ensure that at the completion of the program, the student is sufficiently confident and fully versed in presenting not only to an engineering audience but also during the OUR Summer Symposium, publishing an abstract in the University of Utah Undergraduate Research Journal so that his/her work can be understood by everyone.