A non-invasive, 3-in-1 skin cancer detection device developed by researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin took home top honors in the "SciFi No Longer" category at the 18th annual SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards on March 17.

The 3-in-1 device could potentially save billions in U.S. healthcare costs annually by eliminating the need for most biopsies.

Designed by a team of researchers led by James Tunnell, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, the device combines three ways of using light to provide a faster, more accurate skin cancer screening tool.

Tunnell’s team estimates that 25 negative biopsies are performed for every case of skin cancer detected, translating to a cost of $6 billion to the U.S. healthcare system each year. The 3-in-1 device reduces the high number and cost of negative biopsies by giving physicians a clearer picture of which skin lesions are most likely cancerous.

The SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards’ "SciFi No Longer" category honors “the coolest scientific achievement or discovery that, before 2014, was only possible in science fiction.” Approximately the size of a pen, the 3-in-1 device can noninvasively screen for abnormal skin cells in a lesion in less than five seconds. It is the first probe of its kind to be inexpensive enough for use in clinics and doctors’ offices.

The Cockrell School team has partnered with Seton Healthcare Family to conduct clinical trials of the 3-in-1 device this spring. Dr. Jason Reichenberg, Seton dermatologist and clinical director of dermatology for the University of Texas Physicians Group, is leading the testing. Dr. Reichenberg is also an associate professor at the new Dell Medical School.

The 3-in-1 device has also gained recognition among the medical community. On March 15, Tunnell was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering for "exceptional contributions to the development of imaging and spectroscopy devices for the early detection and treatment of cancer."