IT Live: It’s scary enough making a doctor’s appointment to see if a strange mole could be cancerous. Imagine, then, that you were in that situation while also living far away from the nearest doctor, unable to take time off work and unsure you had the money to cover the cost of the visit.
In a scenario like this, an option to receive a diagnosis through your smartphone could be lifesaving.
Universal access to health care was on the minds of computer scientists at Stanford when they set out to create an artificially intelligent diagnosis algorithm for skin cancer. They made a database of nearly 130,000 skin disease images and trained their algorithm to visually diagnose potential cancer. From the very first test, it performed with inspiring accuracy.
“We realized it was feasible, not just to do something well, but as well as a human dermatologist,” said Sebastian Thrun, an adjunct professor in the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “That’s when our thinking changed. That’s when we said, ‘Look, this is not just a class project for students, this is an opportunity to do something great for humanity.’”
The final product, the subject of a paper in the Jan. 25 issue of Nature, was tested against 21 board-certified dermatologists. In its diagnoses of skin lesions, which represented the most common and deadliest skin cancers, the algorithm matched the performance of dermatologists.
Health care by smartphone: Although this algorithm currently exists on a computer, the team would like to make it smartphone compatible in the near future, bringing reliable skin cancer diagnoses to our fingertips.
“My main eureka moment was when I realized just how ubiquitous smartphones will be,” said Esteva. “Everyone will have a supercomputer in their pockets with a number of sensors in it, including a camera. What if we could use it to visually screen for skin cancer? Or other ailments?”
The team believes it will be relatively easy to transition the algorithm to mobile devices but there still needs to be further testing in a real-world clinical setting.
“Advances in computer-aided classification of benign versus malignant skin lesions could greatly assist dermatologists in improved diagnosis for challenging lesions and provide better management options for patients,” said Susan Swetter, professor of dermatology and director of the Pigmented Lesion and Melanoma Program at the Stanford Cancer Institute, and co-author of the paper. “However, rigorous prospective validation of the algorithm is necessary before it can be implemented in clinical practice, by practitioners and patients alike.”
Even in light of the challenges ahead, the researchers are hopeful that deep learning could someday contribute to visual diagnosis in many medical fields.
Additional Stanford co-authors of this work include Roberto Novoa, clinical assistant professor of dermatology and of pathology, and Justin Ko, clinical associate professor of dermatology. Thrun is also founder and president of Udacity. Blau is also the director of the Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology and a member of Stanford Bio-Bio, the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute, the Child Health Research Institute and the Stanford Cancer Institute.
Dhaka, 29 Jan. (campuslive24.com) // IH