Elucid lab co-founders AI skin cancer detection

From left to right, the cofounders of Elucid Labs: Iman Khodadad (PhD ’17), Alexander Wong (BASc ’05; MASc ’07; PhD ’10), and Farnoud Kazemzadeh (BSC ’08; MASc ’12; PhD ’16)

A medical startup has developed cutting-edge imaging technology that has the potential to detect skin cancer without leaving a mark.

Elucid Labs uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology in a small noninvasive imaging device to analyze moles and other skin lesions for signs of skin cancer, helping dermatologists make faster, more accurate decisions and reducing the number of unnecessary biopsies.

The company, named one of the 20 most innovative technology companies for 2017 by the Canadian Innovation Exchange, was cofounded by Alexander Wong, a Waterloo systems design engineering professor, and Iman Khodadad and Farnoud Kazemzadeh, who both earned their engineering doctorates at Waterloo.

“Our vision is to eventually replace all biopsies whether they’re skin related or internal, having anything to do with cancer or any other disease,” says Kazemzadeh.

Elucid Labs spun out of PhD research

Elucid Labs spun out of the research Kazemzadeh conducted for his PhD that was inspired by his background in both astronomy and engineering– his undergraduate degree from Waterloo is in astronomy and astrophysics and his master’s degree, which is also from Waterloo, focused on laser and optical engineering.  He took what he learned from all his degrees and applied it to biomedical engineering.

“I figured out that the same way I looked at a star to find out what was going on inside of it, including its temperature, pressure, chemical makeup and magnetic field, I could do looking at a person,” he explains. “I want to make a difference here on earth.”

Dermatologist in a box

The new technology Kazemzadeh describes as being able to “see through the skin” will benefit everyone, but particularly people on medications such as blood thinners who could suffer medical problems by undergoing an invasive biopsy.

The device will also save money. Kazemzadeh estimates that the cost per scan could eventually be less than $50, which is considerably less than the average price of a biopsy conducted today. And the technology is designed to be portable and used in remote areas that don’t have medical professionals nearby.

“This is like a dermatologist in a box,” he says.  “You can at least get the basics of dermatology in a community that doesn’t have access to the specialist.”

Located in Waterloo’s Velocity with office space in Mississauga, Elucid Labs has received funding from Waterloo Engineering and from the University’s Velocity program.

Promising feedback

The company recently conducted a few pre-clinical trials to gather user comments. The results of the trials have been published in medical journals to expose the community to its technology.

“The general feedback from the doctors has been extremely positive as they are starting to see how this technology could help them perform their duties faster and better,” says Kazemzadeh. “We have been able to explore other use cases of the technology beyond dermato-oncology.”

Kazemzadeh, now a Waterloo Engineering adjunct professor, anticipates it will be an uphill battle to change a practice that has been in its current form for many years and it will take time before the medical community completely stops performing biopsies.

“Ten years from now we’re going to look back at today and say it was barbaric that we used to cut ourselves open to know what disease we had,” he says. ”So the digital biopsy technology is going to be realized. And we’re going to be the ones to make it happen.”