June 10, 2013

PhD research fights skin cancer

Computing science graduand Maryam Sadeghi is working 16 hours a day to commercialize her PhD thesis research.

Sadeghi has developed a package of smartphone hardware and software, coupled with an online network of consulting physicians, for diagnosing potential cases of malignant melanoma skin cancer.

She has spent the past four years working with dermatologists at UBC and the BC Cancer agency to understand the visual symptoms of melanoma and then develop and meld computer algorithms with visual imaging techniques to diagnose the disease from photographs.

The result: an inexpensive consumer package that operates on a smartphone to photograph a skin mole, analyze it for the visual markers of melanoma, and determine whether it needs further medical attention.

Her research won the Innovation Challenge Award 2012 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Doctoral Dissertation honourable mention award from the Canadian Image Processing and Pattern Recognition Society. Sadeghi’s excitement about her app is palpable.

Sadeghi's excitement abour her app is palpable.

She says skin canacer is 90 per cent curable with early diagnosis.

"I want to empower people with this powerful imaging tool," she says. "I'm going to do it whatever it costs."

This isn’t Sadeghi’s first app.

She and a team of friends and colleagues have already launched two free smartphone apps for skin cancer prevention, UV Canada and UV U.S., hosted by the Save Your Skin Foundation. They give daily warnings about UV exposure across North America.

“My goal is to see everyone use the application,” she says, noting there have been 35,000 downloads since 2011.      

Sadeghi is now a post-doctoral fellow at SFU and continues to collaborate with the UBC Department of Dermatology and Skin Science and the BC Cancer Agency.

She credits much of her success to her graduate supervisor, professor Stella Atkins, an expert in medical imaging.

“She’s changed my life path, not just my career path. She’s my role model.”