Position: Postdoc

Current Institution: MIT

Computer-aided classification of suspicious pigmented lesions using wide field of view images

Cutaneous melanoma is responsible for over 75% of skin cancer deaths. In 2016, an estimated 76,380 patients will be diagnosed with melanoma, and 10,150 patients are estimated to die of melanoma in the U.S. However, the prognosis is excellent for localized disease and primary tumors with a 5-year survival rate of more than 90%. For late tumor stage IV, the survival rate drops to 16.1% with a 20-fold increase in treatment costs. Hence, early detection is key to reducing melanoma mortality and lowering treatment costs. Currently, early detection of malignant lesions via thorough skin screening in a wide patient population is limited by dermatologist patient throughput. Primary care physicians (PCPs) on the other side see a large percentage of the general population in their daily practice. Our aim is to empower PCPs with a quick and easy to use screening tool to widen the access of skin analysis to a broader population while con-currently limiting the unnecessarily high referral rate from primary care physicians to specialists. Our technical approach is based on a computer-aided classification system which uses a powerful machine learning algorithm to analyze wide field of view images of the patient’s body to automatically distinguish suspicious from non-suspicious skin lesions.

Judith Birkenfeld is a PhD from Germany with extensive experience in solving biomedical research problems. Judith received her M.Sc. degree in medical physics from the University of Heidelberg, Germany. For her research thesis she collaborated with the MGH Francis H. Burr Proton Beam Therapy Center in Boston, where she simulated radiation procedures to analyze the effects of different dose rates on cancer patients and their treatment. After graduating from Heidelberg with a diploma in Physics, she transitioned to the field of biomedical optics for her PhD thesis at the Institute of Optics (VioBio Lab) in Madrid, Spain. Judith investigated the effect of the crystalline lens’ gradient refractive index and its influence on optical aberration with age and accommodation. Her work has significant implications for the quantitative study of in vivo lenses and provides important insights into the mechanism of existing IOLs and for their possible future development. This set of research earned Judith her PhD in physics with honors from the Complutense University. In 2014 she was accepted as a catalyst fellow in the M+Visión program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a highly competitive fellowship program designed to prepare scientists with advanced technical degrees for biomedical technology innovation leadership, tackle current unmet medical needs in the healthcare system, and develop patient-centric biomedical technologies. During her first year as a catalyst fellow, Judith co-created the Skin project. The goal of the project is to empower primary care physicians, who already have access to a large percentage of the patient population, with a tool to provide an effective skin screening for everybody and help diagnose melanoma while it is still highly treatable. The team has developed a computer aided classification system which works in combination with wide field of view images, allowing for rapid and objective referral tools for primary care physicians. Currently, Judith is an M+Visión Cofund/Marie Curie Action Fellow at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital/HMS. In addition to being a founding key team member in Team Skin’s research in cancer care, she is also working on a project that seeks to monitor hydration in the elderly care setting as a major contributor in study design and experimental measurements. In the future, she hopes to continue to work within a strong collaborative network of scientists, clinicians and businesses in an environment that pushes bench-to-bedside innovation.