Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Melanoma Screening: There’s an App for That

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This post was authored by @MikeMadarasz of the Institute for International Research 

While rumors and predictions fly around about Apple’s impending Healthbook App, one University of Houston professor is making mobile health breakthroughs on a smaller scale.  DermoScreen is helping patients to screen for cancer by simply taking a picture of a mole or discoloration with their iPhone and running it through the application.  The remarkable part is that the software is predicting cancer at about an 85% success rate—Right on par with most dermatology professionals. 

The app, which has been a project of professor George Zouridakis since 2005, is still in the early testing stages, but if approved could have big implications on the field.  Melanoma detection has proved to be a problem in many rural areas and the developing world where the nearest specialists are situated hundreds of miles away.  Dermoscreen provides a quick and inexpensive solution to that problem.  In addition to a mobile device, the app requires a dermoscope attachment which costs about $500. 

Zouridakis
Photo: University of Houston
Melanoma is responsible for roughly three out of every four cancer deaths and the best way to combat the disease is with early detection.  This is largely what Dermoscreen is hoping to facilitate by eliminating expensive tests and extended waiting periods for results.  Says Dr. Ana Ciurea, an assistant professor of dermatology at MD Anderson, “We are in early stages of planning and approval for this project, but such an application, if validated, has the potential for widespread use to ultimately improve patient care.”   

Investors are beginning to become enamored with the project, which is in process of being upgraded so that it can handle different diagnostic components.  A team of students produced a business plan around the app that claimed a $60,000 Grand Prize at the 2013 California Dreamin National Business Plan Competition.  Investors began to take notice after this but Zouridakis and his team chose to be patient and firm up the technology. 

Look for this tech to begin to be applied to other diseases as well.  The project has already secured a $415,500 grant from the National Institute of Health to explore its application in diagnosing Buruli ulcers, a flesh-eating bacteria in Africa. 

But to what extent can we trust technology with these diagnoses?  While an 85% accuracy rate is impressive for a machine, that still leaves a percentage of patients misdiagnosed.  Can we assume that in the rural setting this app is intended for that this would only further delay a trip to a specialist?  Additionally, in the case of Buruli ulcers, popular medical opinion is that multiple methods may be necessary to make a correct diagnosis.  Based on that, it seems like a stretch to think that an iPhone could accurately do the same on its own.  While the technology seems to be flirting with a breakthrough, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that we are still in the early stages of testing.

We’ll have more on new care delivery models at ePharma West this year.  Now, you can SAVE $100. Use discount code XP1956BLOG. Register here.

ePharma West | September 22-24 | San Francisco, CA


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