Ediscim to detect skin cancer at its earliest stages with confocal imaging and tele-diagnosis

Munich 23 January 2001Within the 5th Framework Programme, the European Commission has funded 9 projects which are focused in particular on the development of advanced technology systems for medical image processing and visualisation to test these in clinical trials. EDISCIM, which stands for the early diagnosis of skin cancer with use of confocal imaging, constitutes one of these projects and is being sponsored for three years from January 1, 2000. The 5 Ediscim partners will develop and apply a non-invasive optical process using confocal image generation to "look inside" the patient's skin and examine any malignant changes in its upper layers.


In recent years, the occurrence of skin cancers such as basal cell carcinomas and malignant melanomas, has dramatically increased all over the world. Even for an expert, early recognition and diagnosis is sometimes difficult. The Ediscim team aims to facilitate the physician's job by capturing images up to a depth of 1 mm to process the data in real time. Similar to an ultra-sonar system, the Ediscim tool will display the upper layers of the skin to the doctor in the form of a virtual vertical biopsy. Using a classification of skin types in a knowledge-based system, the physician will be guided in the analysis of the patient images and in his diagnosis.

A telemedical interface will enable the doctor to transfer images for a remote consultation by a specialist dermatologist. The digital images acquired from the examination, can be interactively forwarded to the clinical expert through modern data network technology. The expert will then provide an opinion on the data and even perform the examination remotely via tele-diagnosis if the need occurs. The Ediscim partners are also assisted by dermatologists, who will classify the various skin types and their malignant changes, and will test and validate the system in clinical trials, set up at the Dermatology Clinic of the University of Regensburg in Germany and at the University Dermatology Clinic in Brescia, Italy.

The principle of confocal imaging is based on the building of an innovative sensor head which contains the optical equipment, a dedicated hardware for processing the images in real time and for transferring the visual data to a standard PC. A user interface will present the skin image to the physician in a similar manner as a vertical biopsy or cut into the skin. An image database with knowledge-based image matching algorithms will guide the physician in the diagnosis and help to identify malignant conditions of the skin. The tele-diagnostic interface will facilitate the image transmission to remote experts. The medical partners in the project will perform the clinical groundwork by providing a classification of the normal skin and of abnormal conditions.

The Ediscim system development will happen in two phases. In each stage, the main components including the sensor head, sensor interface, the user software, and the image analysis tool, will be developed in parallel followed by system integration. The second development cycle will help to debug and to refine or extend the functionality of the system. To get an early feedback on the Ediscim implementation, the first clinical trials phase will be carried out in parallel to the second development phase. After final integration of the prototype, a second intensive clinical trial will test and evaluate the system. The project will end in an overall evaluation of the prototype.

The Ediscim project is co-ordinated by Siemens AG. The other two partners, apart from the two dermatology hospitals, include Projectina AG, an optical components specialist based in Switzerland, and Samba Technologies SARL, a network technologies enterprise located in France. The European Union has made an award of 1,5 million euro for the project which will amount to 2,5 million euro in total. You can find more details at the project Web site of EDISCIM.

Leslie Versweyveld

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