kin cancers are the fastest growing class of cancers, outpacing growth in the number of dermatologists to diagnose and treat them. The Zentrum für Neuroinformatik (ZN) at Bochum in Germany has developed a remarkable portable skin-screening camera and interpretation system, microDERM(1), that can be operated by relatively untrained assistants. It will enable many more people to be screened, with at-risk cases being referred to a specialist. There is a 95% chance of complete recovery if malignant skin tumours are caught early enough.
The easy-to-use portable skin-screening microDERM camera.
The Innovation project(2) began the development and validation of the camera system. Led by ZN, it also involved 12 hospital departments in Denmark, Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Sweden, Holland and the UK. A four-year follow-up project, Danaos (Diagnostic and Neuronal Analysis of Skin Cancer), with additional funding from the Deutsche Krebshilfe foundation and the North Rhine-Westphalian government, refined the tool and demonstrated its market value.
How it works
The heart of the system is a high-resolution camera, specially developed to look at the skin with a magnification of up to 50 times. The computer software to analyse its pictures is based on an artificial neural network which makes decisions in the same way as the human brain. In the development projects, the system was trained to recognise suspicious moles, with over 20,000 skin images collected from people of all ages, races and colouring. "We and our partners, led by Bochum University's skin cancer centre, classified the pictures by the ABCD rule (asymmetry, border, colour and diameter), which are the four main risk factors used by skin cancer specialists," explains ZN's Dr Martin Kreutz. "In these samples we found 3,800 different lesions and 30 types of skin cancer. They comprise the largest database of its type in the world."
The software is compatible with existing medical practice software. It takes into account the age and skin type of the patient and presents a numerical assessment of the ABCD factors, to form an overall assessment of the probability of malignancy. If this exceeds 30%, a specialist is called in. The image is stored for confirmation of the diagnosis and tracking of the progress of the lesion, and can also be printed out.
In summer 2000, following validation and development of the system, a new company, VISIOmed AG, was set up at Bochum to market it. MicroDERM was launched in Germany, where there is full service support, and has been available in the Middle East since January 2001. The company will be demonstrating the system at trade fairs and congresses in America and Australia as well as Europe throughout 2001. For example, between March and July it will be on show at the French National Congress of Dermatology in Strasbourg on March 15-18, and at the 8th World Congress on Cancers of the Skin in Zurich in June.
"As it is more accurate than the human eye, the system should avoid unnecessary excisions of benign moles, as well as detecting dangerous cases in good time," concludes Kreutz. "It will save lives and save time."
(1) microDERM is a registered trademark.
(2) Project IN10483I - A skin cancer screening tool.