North­eastern is one of 21 uni­ver­si­ties nation­wide to receive an inno­va­tion award through a new National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion (NSF) pro­gram that will fund the devel­op­ment of a new device that can mea­sure skin tone accu­rately by deter­mining the amount of melanin in the skin.

The highly com­pet­i­tive award was made through the NSF’s Inno­va­tion Corps (I-​​Corps) pro­gram. I-​​Corps aims to high­light how uni­ver­si­ties can spin off their research into com­pa­nies that address real-​​world prob­lems — such as the new tech­nology North­eastern researchers envi­sion for the multi-​​billion dollar cos­metics industry.

The Keck 3D Fusion Micro­scope at Northeastern’s Gordon-​​CenSSIS NSF Engi­neering Research Center — directed by pro­fessor Michael Sile­vitch — was ini­tially used to dis­cover a fluorescence-​​based method for detecting melanin, or pig­men­ta­tion, in the skin. Melanin pro­vides pro­tec­tion against harmful ultra­vi­olet radi­a­tion, while its den­sity defines skin color.

Silevitch’s team was pre­vi­ously able to excite the melanin flu­o­res­cence and dis­tin­guish it from every­thing in the back­ground — a method that would ulti­mately improve the speed and accu­racy with which der­ma­tol­o­gists and oncol­o­gists manage and treat skin cancer. How­ever, researchers later dis­cov­ered the new, non­in­va­sive and low-​​cost tech­nology also had great poten­tial for a novel use in the cos­metics industry.

The team’s goal for the project, known as MySkin­Tone, is to ulti­mately develop a hand­held device that mea­sures a person’s melanin levels. They say these read­ings could remove the guess­work from matching that person with the appro­priate skin­care prod­ucts, and pro­vide useful infor­ma­tion for a variety of appli­ca­tions, such as mod­u­lating the set­tings in tan­ning beds. The team has esti­mated the total poten­tial market for their solu­tion at $1.5 bil­lion worldwide.

A can-​​do atti­tude is what has made our country great,” Sile­vitch said. “The I-​​Corps pro­gram is the next spark that will help enable a national inno­va­tion engine, and we are excited that MySkin­Tone was selected for this flag­ship award.”

The win­ning I-​​Corps teams receive $50,000 to begin assessing the com­mer­cial readi­ness of their tech­nology con­cepts, as well as guid­ance from pri­vate– and public-​​sector experts.

In addi­tion to Sile­vitch, the North­eastern team is com­prised of Josef Kerimo, man­ager of the Keck micro­scope facility; David Orec­chio, a North­eastern alumnus, entre­pre­neur and mentor on the project; and Emel Bulat, the Gordon-​​CenSSIS indus­trial liaison.