NCI SBIR Award Helps Company Use AI to Assess Cancerous Skin Lesions

A firm located in California’s high-tech heartland recently received $2 million in funding from NCI’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program.

Using this grant, Enspectra Health, Inc., will build deep learning algorithms using their existing imaging technology, which digitizes pathology results in real time by taking a snapshot under the patient’s skin.

This non-invasive skin imaging technique blends confocal and multiphoton microscopy, an approach that allows the researchers to probe deep within the skin’s cells to create a virtual biopsy.

The company will use the SBIR grant to expand their database of digital images of Actinic Keratosis (AK), a precancerous lesion caused by excessive sun/ultraviolet light exposure. Only a small percentage of AK cases progress to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). The researchers plan to train their algorithm using those cases—that is, patients who were not responsive to treatment and, thus, are most likely to progress to SCC.

According to Enspectra’s CEO, Mr. Gabriel Sanchez, this technology could redefine the way we evaluate and treat numerous skin conditions. He noted, “We’ve never observed the cellular response of a skin lesion to treatment because conventional biopsies are destructive by nature. Not only will our non-invasive approach enable this new research, but we believe it will appeal to patients who prefer to avoid unnecessary biopsies.”

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