Monday, 27 June 2016 18:36

IBM to apply cognitive technology in melanoma identification Featured

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Cognitive technology — or artificial intelligence  is to be harnessed in the fight against melanomas, one of Australia’s most common cancers.

With Australia’s rates of skin cancers one of the highest in the world, IBM Research and MoleMap  one of the world’s largest melanoma screening programs  are partnering with the Melanoma Institute Australia to help further advances in the identification of melanoma.

The partnership and the planned research builds on IBM’s existing research agreement with MoleMap, which uses advanced visual analytics to analyse more than 40,000 datasets including images and text.

Under the new partnership, IBM Research plans to analyse dermatological images of skin lesions to help identify specific clinical patterns in the early stages of melanoma.

IBM says the aim of the research is to help reduce unnecessary biopsies and help clinicians more accurately understand skin cancer, and improve patient care, and the announcement of the partnership further complements the company’s existing research into skin cancer image analysis with the world’s oldest and largest private cancer centre, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the United States.

The Melanoma Institute cites current statistics indicating that two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70, yet 95 to 99% of all skin cancers are preventable – with early diagnosis of skin cancer critical for survival rates, notably for melanoma which is considered among the most life-threatening.  

And, according to national cancer statistics, someone in Australia dies from melanoma every six hours.

Under the partnership, IBM will use advanced visual analytics to conduct retrospective analysis on de-identified data, which will include access to more than one million images from 9000 Australian and New Zealand patients, as well as text-based clinical notes in an effort to improve the accuracy of its machine-learning algorithms.

Dr. Joanna Batstone, vice-president and lab director, IBM Research Australia, says IBM’s cognitive technology will aim to learn to understand skin cancers such as melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma using lower resolution clinical images, with a goal of similar accuracy to what can be achieved with dermoscopy images.

“Cognitive computing has the ability to process vast amounts of complex data including images and text very quickly, something that isn’t possible by current manual methods. Another major benefit of the self-learning technology is that it improves as more and more data is fed into it.

“This initiative could inform future research and, potentially, the development of offerings that could have enormous implications for both the Australian public and the health system.”

Adrian Bowling, chief executive of MoleMap, says melanomas are often missed in routine skin checks, as doctors don’t always have the technology or skills to recognise them, particularly in the early stages.

“Our aim at MoleMap is to detect melanoma earlier and more accurately, so partnering with IBM and using its cognitive capabilities to help drive this forward made perfect sense for us.

“We’re looking forward to seeing what we can achieve together to help fight this deadly disease. Since 1997 MoleMap has seen more than 200,000 patients and assessed more than six million lesions through 50 clinics across New Zealand, Australia and the United States.”

Melanoma Institute Australia operates the world’s largest melanoma research and treatment facility, and controls the world's largest melanoma research database.

Professor Graham Mann, research director at Melanoma Institute Australia, says that research that enables the earlier detection of melanoma is likely to save more lives.

He says the five-year survival rate for melanoma is only 64% once the disease reaches the lymph nodes. However, this rises to 95% if detected before then. “Diagnosing melanoma with the naked eye is only about 60% accurate, but dermoscopy can lift that to over 80%. Research using automated analysis of images could provide the next gain in accuracy, especially where dermoscopy is hard to access.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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