The University of Houston division of research backed Dr. George Zouridakis with $50,000 in gap funding to support proof of concept work and to upgrade the app software for commercial application. Questions remain about the accessibility (or justification) of use by the general public with the associated cost of the necessary dermoscope hardware ($500). However, this offering in its current state could be attractive to general practitioners or those in rural underdeveloped areas of the world, and provides a cheaper initial diagnostic from more expensive testing methods.

Dr. George Zouridakis PhD, a professor at the University of Houston has developed an iPhone app, called DermoScreen, that in early testing was able to detect melanoma 85 percent of the time.

The smartphone must be attached to a $500 dermoscope, which further magnifies the area of the patient’s skin that will be tested.

In 2006, Zouridakis published a paper about this technology titled “SVM-based Texture Classification and Application to Early Melanoma Detection”. The paper explains that the application “relies on analysis of the pigmentation characteristics of a skin lesion, detected using crosspolarization imaging, and the increased vasculature associated with malignant lesions that is detected using transillumination imaging”.

Since then, Zouridakis told MobiHealthNews he has published several other papers that detail the process after image acquisition, which includes image preprocessing, lesion segmentation, image analysis for feature extraction, and lesion classification.

Before commercialization, Zouridakis aims to make the app more accurate – University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is currently testing the app further.

“To develop a product that is clinically useful and survive beyond an ephemeral news sensation, it takes time to set up partnerships that include the medical, technical, and business expertise needed to design good studies, get approvals, deploy devices to collect and analyze data, make medically meaningful conclusions, and develop commercialization strategies,” Zourdikakis said. “So partnering with MD Anderson would cover the clinical expertise, while we contribute the technical expertise.”

The University of Houston (UH) is working on creating strategic partnerships with venture capital funds that invest in startups focused on healthcare to accelerate commercialization.

Zouridakis has also received different grants to enhance the app. NIH awarded him with a $412,500 grant to test of the device’s ability to screen for Buruli ulcer, a flesh-eating bacterial disease, in Africa and the UH Division of Research, a department at UH that offers researchers funding so they can pursue commercialization, provided him with $50,000 in gap funding to upgrade the software.

DermoScreen will be targeting physicians who want to pre-screen for melanoma during patient check ups; health care personnel, including doctors, nurses, and health workers in underserved areas, remote areas and developing countries; and consumers who can use it to determine whether or not a mole on their body needs further medical attention.

While the final cost of the app is not yet decided, Zouridakis is working with companies including 3Gen, that develops dermoscopic devices, to license DermoScreen’s technology, which might provide users with a potential hardware and software bundling.

In the past few years, other researchers have also developed apps that aim to educate patients about skin cancer and alert them to potential risks, although not many have been able to identify and potentially diagnose potential skin cancer areas.

In July 2012, physicians at the University of Michigan Health System launched an app for patients at-risk for skin cancer to use at home to self-exam their moles and other skin lesions over time. The free app, called UMSkinCheck, is just the latest in skin cancer tracking and near-diagnostic apps to hit Apple’s AppStore in the past year. UMSkinCheck is available for iPhone and iPad users.

Another app that launched in 2011, called Skin Scan, said it could detect melanoma on the user’s skin using only the iPhone’s camera by tracking the growth of moles and UV exposure. Then in 2012, the company rebranded as SkinVision and launched on Android as well. Coincidentally, Zouridakis’ DermoScreen launched with the name SkinScan, but changed it after the name was already taken in the Apple App Store.