Saturday April 20, 2019

AI Outwits Doctors at Detecting Skin Cancer

It can be cured if detected early, but many cases are only diagnosed when the cancer is more advanced and harder to treat

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Previous research has shown that obesity and high-fat diets both together and independently increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
The actress was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. Pixabay

An Artificial Intelligence (AI) system has been found to detect skin cancer more accurately than a group of experienced dermatologists from 17 countries around the world, a study said on Tuesday.

In the experiment, the team of researchers from Germany, France and the US trained a form of AI or Machine Learning known as a deep learning convolutional neural network (CNN) to identify skin cancer by showing it more than 100,000 images of malignant melanomas — the most lethal form of skin cancer — as well as harmless moles.

When its performance was compared with that of 58 international dermatologists, the CNN missed fewer melanomas and misdiagnosed benign moles less often as malignant than the group of dermatologists, showed the findings published in the journal Annals of Oncology.

“The CNN works like the brain of a child. To train it, we showed the CNN more than 100,000 images of malignant and benign skin cancers and moles and indicated the diagnosis for each image,” said first author of the study Professor Holger Haenssle from the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

“Only dermoscopic images were used, that is lesions that were imaged at a 10-fold magnification. With each training image, the CNN improved its ability to differentiate between benign and malignant lesions,” Haenssle added.

Representational image (AI)
Representational image (AI). Pixabay

A CNN is an artificial neural network inspired by the biological processes at work when nerve cells (neurons) in the brain are connected to each other and respond to what the eye sees.

The CNN is capable of learning fast from images that it “sees” and teaching itself from what it has learned to improve its performance — a process known as Machine Learning.

“These findings show that deep learning convolutional neural networks are capable of out-performing dermatologists, including extensively trained experts, in the task of detecting melanomas,” Haenssle said.

The incidence of malignant melanoma is increasing, with an estimated 232,000 new cases worldwide and around 55,500 deaths from the disease each year.

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It can be cured if detected early, but many cases are only diagnosed when the cancer is more advanced and harder to treat.

But despite the promising results from the experiment, the researchers do not envisage that the CNN would take over from dermatologists in diagnosing skin cancers, but that it could be used as an additional aid.

“This CNN may serve physicians involved in skin cancer screening as an aid in their decision whether to biopsy a lesion or not,” Haenssle said. (IANS)

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This Tiny Cell is Good News for Cancer Survivors

This approach to fertility restoration is safe," says Bhartiya pointing out to earlier studies carried out in her laboratory in mice which had shown that this method restored the role of non-functional ovaries and resulted in the birth of fertile offsprings

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Cancer
Cancer Ribbon. Pixabay

A scientist at the National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health (NIRRH) in Mumbai — an institute under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) — says a new type of stem cell identified by her team can help restore fertility in men and women who have undergone treatment for cancer.

Cancer treatment, or “oncotherapy”, that involves use of radiation and chemicals, renders patients infertile as an unwanted side effect and, while cured of cancer, they cannot beget children.

Though women are born with a lifetime reserve of “oocytes” ( immature eggs), these are wiped out by oncotherapy. In males, the testes responsible for the production of sperms, stop making them following cancer treatment.

Currently accepted approaches for fertility preservation require male patients to deposit their sperm in “cryo-banks” before beginning cancer treatment for later use. Similarly women, wanting to have children, must have their eggs or embryos “cryopreserved” for use after oncotherapy.

“Such approaches are invasive, expensive, technically challenging and depend on assisted reproductive technologies,” reports NIRRH cell biologist Deepa Bhartiya in the latest issue of the Indian Journal of Medical Research, the flagship journal of ICMR.

According to the report, there is now a way out. Bhartiya says research by her team over the years led to identification of a novel population of “Very Small Embryonic-Like stem cells (VSELs)”, in testis (in males) and ovaries (in females).

Being “quiescent” by nature, these primitive stem cells (VSELs) survive cancer therapy and therefore can offer young cancer survivors options to have children without having to bank their sperms or embryos prior to oncotherapy, says the report.

“The VSELs have remained elusive over decades due to their small size and presence in very few numbers,” says Bhartiya.

Cancer patient
Cancer patient.

The discovery of these unique VSELs (in testes and ovaries) that do not succumb to oncotherapy “opens up an alternative strategy to regenerate non-functional gonads and ovaries in cancer survivors”, says Bhartiya.

While VSELs survive cancer treatment, their original “habitat” (or niche) however gets destroyed by oncotherapy. To make the VSELs functional, their “niche” should be re-created by transplanting “mesenchymal cells” — another type of stem cells taken from the bone marrow — into the testes, says the report.

A simple and direct transplantation of “mesenchymal cells in the non-functional gonads may suffice to regenerate them,” says Bhartiya. “Similarly, transplantation of “ovarian surface epithelial cells” may allow the VSELs to regenerate nonfunctional ovaries.”

“This approach to fertility restoration is safe,” says Bhartiya pointing out to earlier studies carried out in her laboratory in mice which had shown that this method restored the role of non-functional ovaries and resulted in the birth of fertile offsprings.

“Our group also successfully restored spermatogenesis (sperm production) in non-functional mouse testis by transplanting niche (mesenchymal) cells, into the testis,” Bhartiya said.

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In the light of these findings, she says the field of oncofertility may undergo a sea-change and existing strategies of cryopreservation of gametes and gonadal tissue for fertility preservation in cancer patients will have to be revised. “Pilot clinical studies (in humans) need to be undertaken.”

“VSELs may be an alternative cell source for induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) clls,” Balu Manohar, managing director of Stempeutics Research, a Bengaluru-based stem cell company told this correspondent. “But it is still far away from the clinic as isolation and large scale expansion of these cells has to be standardised.” (IANS)