June 9, 2015. 6:55 pm
BY PAMELA FAYERMAN
A Simon Fraser University spinoff company has developed an app and a tiny microscope attachment for smartphones that allows users to take, store and share high quality images of moles and other suspicious skin lesions.
The MoleScope device is making its debut at the World Congress of Dermatology in Vancouver this week, and around 11,000 dermatologists and other skin experts attending the biggest international gathering of skin specialists are trying it out.
Maryam Sadeghi, the innovator and founder of MetaOptima, said the technology allows health consumers to use the same kind of dermascopes that doctors use to examine lesions. The MoleScope has a 10x magnification tool and a built-in light source, as well as a cloud-based analysis platform that allows users to share, compare and archive images of suspicious growths and others being monitored for changes in colour, shape and size.
“ … we are looking for early adopters — dermatologists who will use the MoleScope,” Sadeghi said in an interview. “And later this summer, we will be offering a limited number of consumers access to it,” she said, referring to purchase pricing of $149 for the consumer model and slightly more for the medical use version.
The devices are assembled in Richmond, with parts that are made in China and the United States.
Vancouver dermatologist Dr. Jason Rivers has used a prototype of the device and is impressed with the images and utility. Previous research has shown that dermascopes can increase the accuracy of skin cancer diagnosis by about 25 per cent, compared to the naked eye.
“For patients who are at a higher risk of skin cancer, it makes sense to monitor them this way, and it seems to be user-friendly,” said Rivers, who, as a medical adviser to Sadeghi’s company, could earn stock options in the future.
Rivers said the technology essentially takes doctors’ advice to the next level since he already tells patients to take photos of their moles for the purpose of monitoring them over time. But he agrees that it could be hampered by a shortage of dermatologists, especially those who practise medical dermatology, as opposed to those with purely cosmetic practices.
In a presentation at the conference on Monday, Dr. Evert Tuyp, head of the Doctors of BC dermatology section, told attendees that Canada needs 135 more dermatologists.
Dr. Evert Tuyp, Coquitlam dermatologist heads BCMA section of dermatology
B.C. has openings for 26. Four dermatologists in this province retired in the past six months and two moved have away
“The situation is off the rails in B.C., and across Canada when it comes to this shortage of dermatologists, yet skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed malignancy,” said Tuyp who has no connection to the MoleScope.
“It’s not a bad idea, a device like this, but can we just realize that most people, especially men, don’t even look at their moles with their own eyes?
“Most of my male patients come to see me because their wives are forcing them to do so. Without that push, they just continue to neglect this type of important cancer screening.”
Asked whether she thinks the shortage of dermatologists might indeed limit her company’s business plans, Sadeghi said she’s planning to have a telemedicine component, using retired or semi-retired dermatologists as consultants.
Since the images are all digital, consulting dermatologists don’t even have to be in the same communities. Their role would be to advise consumers or even family doctors whether a visit to a dermatologist for a closer look, or a biopsy, might be warranted. Pharmacies might also screen customers using the device.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and one of the fastest growing forms of cancer in Canada, according to Canadian Cancer Society statistics.
About 7,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year but when less lethal, non-melanoma skin cancers — basal and squamous cell — are included, more than 82,000 Canadians will be diagnosed, making skin cancer the most common malignancy in Canada.
“The tragic fact about this disease is that it is almost totally preventable by taking simple measures against the sun. Almost every death is a preventable death,” said Dr. Jerry Shapiro, a Vancouver dermatologist who is president of the World Congress of Dermatology.
Meanwhile, pharmaceutical company Merck has announced it has been given approval by Health Canada to sell (with some conditions) a new drug called Keytruda, a monoclonal antibody that harnesses and boosts the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
The drug has been approved for use in patients with metastatic melanoma tumours that cannot be surgically removed and after other treatments have failed.