ZHO/Optoelektronik develops photonic sensor for skin cancer detection together with Microwave Photonics GmbH, Mintres BV and University Hospital EssenPhotonic sensor for skin cancer detection

After more than four years of successful cross-border research and development cooperation, the core partners of the Interreg VA program ROCKET (RegiOnal Collaboration on Key Enabling Technologies) have decided to continue the concept and the knowledge gained in joint projects in the future, thus launching the follow-up program ROCKET Reloaded. The ROCKET Reloaded program promotes cooperation between industry and science to strengthen research, technological development and innovation. It covers the entire German-Dutch Interreg VA border area between the North Sea and the Lower Rhine and deals with key enabling technologies (KETs) such as nanotechnology, microsystems technology, micro- and nanoelectronics, innovative materials and materials, and photonics, which form the technological basis for answers to global challenges. Within the framework of this Interreg VA program, the innovation project SkinBall (Skin Tumor Detection by using a Millimeter-Wave Photonic Spectroscopy System), recently launched in January 2020, is also financially supported by the European Union and Interreg partners.

Recently, there has been a great interest in the detection and treatment of various cancers using non-ionizing electromagnetic waves. It has been shown that cancer alters the water content of the skin, which directly affects the permittivity of the skin. For this reason, microwaves (300 MHz - 10 GHz) have been used to detect breast cancer and lung cancer.

Millimeter waves (mm-waves) in the range of 30-300 GHz have shorter wavelengths compared to microwaves and therefore penetrate only a few millimeters into the human body. As a result, they are able to detect pathological changes in the skin layers that are the initial site of most skin tumors. Other biomedical applications of mm-waves include detecting noninvasive dental caries, monitoring blood glucose, assessing corneal hydration, monitoring wound healing, and observing human vital signs. Although these concepts are promising, there are significant challenges to overcome to ensure reliable and stable monitoring using mm-waves. This includes the development of a high-precision instrument for skin monitoring.

The SkinBall project will develop for the first time such a mobile mmW-SI (Millimeter-Wave Spectroscopy Imaging System) system based on advanced photonic technologies and an innovative mm-wave system concept. The mmW-SI system will be used to monitor the permittivity of human skin both "in vivo" and "in vitro". Here, the technological challenge is to develop a mobile and high-resolution mmW-SI system that can operate over an extremely wide bandwidth while providing sufficient contrast for reliable skin tumor detection and analysis. If successfully implemented, the SkinBall mmW-SI system will aid in the detection of skin tumors, potentially reducing the number of unnecessary biopsies. It can also help surgeons obtain accurate data on tumor size and depth.

German high-tech start-up Microwave Photonics GmbH is coordinating the interregional innovation project. "Microwave spectroscopy provides information about the complex permittivity of the skin. In addition, due to the penetration of microwave radiation into the skin, it offers - at least in principle - the possibility of depth-dependent skin analysis. At the end of SkinBall, we want to present an instrument that meets the requirements for reliable detection of skin cancer," reports Prof. Dr. Andreas Stöhr, head of the Department of Optoelectronics at the University of Duisburg-Essen. In addition to the University of Duisburg-Essen, other partners from the German-Dutch border region between the North Sea and the Lower Rhine are involved in the project:

Role of the partner




Microwave Photonics GmbH



Mintres BV



Universität Duisburg-Essen



 Universitätsklinikum Essen


More information and contact: Andreas Stöhr and SkinBall-Webseite

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This project has received funding from the European Union and the Interreg partners within the European Interreg-V-A program “ROCKET Reloaded” .