Hard work doesn’t intimidate SFU alumnus Maryam Sadeghi. Especially not when there are lives at stake.
Maryam Sadeghi seizes every opportunity to learn, manage and lead. While an undergraduate in her native Iran she headed her student union. At SFU Computing Science she was on the executive committee of her graduate students’ association. And energized by helping others, she enjoys mentoring youth who share her passion for science, especially girls and young women.
It was only natural that in 2013 she jumped at the chance to lead the establishment of SFU’s Digital Health Hub, a venture that leverages the university’s partnership with both Fraser Health and the City of Surrey to drive digital health solution development. She then turned her efforts toward a more personal goal—to create a simple, low-cost tool that would empower people to take control of their own skin health.
She completed her PhD studies at the university’s Medical Image Analysis lab in the emergent field of mathematical and computational representation of anatomy. She also spent as much time as she could at both the BC Cancer Agency and the UBC Skin Care Center to supplement her studies at the CIHR Skin Research Training Centre, learning about the visual symptoms of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer which often resembles or develops from pre-existing moles.
While working everyday with scientists, doctors, and their patients, she learned that skin cancer is the most common cancer, and, despite an early diagnosis being critical to saving live, there was (and stil is) a shortage of dermatologists in Canada. Sadeghi was determined to find a solution to this critical care gap. “I knew that I could do something,” she says.
Using her background in intelligent computer technologies, she wrote algorithms that could analyze dermoscopic images for markers of skin cancer and to determine when medical evaluation is needed. She also developed a fingerprint-like approach to detect the presence of the irregular streaks that are a strong indicator of how malignant a lesion is.
She founded MetaOptima Technologies Inc to commercialize her research into a smart device for skin cancer screening and won a spot in SFU’s Venture Connection student entrepreneurship program where she received business development services and one-on-one mentorship to grow her business. The company won a series of business development contests, and in three years Sadeghi has attracted close to 20 equally passionate individuals to her team.
The MoleScope™, comprised of the DermEngine™ medical imaging platform, a mobile app and a mini-microscope attachment for smartphones, was officially unveiled at the 2015 World Congress of Dermatology. The device is available as both a consumer ($149) and professional version ($249) and is receiving worldwide attention.
“It has been an exciting six months since the launch of MoleScope,” says Sadeghi. “It is amazing to see the result of your team’s hard work in the hands of thousands of physicians and patients in more than 20 countries, and you know it is already paying back when, after endless hours of hard work, you receive praise from doctors and patients from around the world.”
Maryam Sadeghi moved to Canada from Iran in 2007 to study at SFU. In 2011, she took home the Gold award at the World Congress of Dermatology in Seoul for creating a computer program that uses images to detect signs of skin cancer. She was awarded the Silver Medal of ACM Student Research Competition from Microsoft Research for her research. Her research on skin cancer prevention and detection has also recently received the Innovation Challenge Award 2012 (honorable mention) from NSERC, and the CIPPRS Doctoral Dissertation award in 2012 (honorable mention) from the Canadian Image Processing and Pattern Recognition Society.
Q & A with Maryam Sadeghi
How is your research making an impact in our lives?
I was inspired to innovate an application for dermatology after working with the BC Cancer Agency for my PhD research. The assessments, monitoring, and recording of skin concerns remain mostly manual and inconsistent. The MoleScope device and application addresses the under-digitization of dermatology and modernizes the workflow of medical clinics. The innovation also helps patients communicate with a medical professional without needing to travel far for an appointment.
How would you sum up the value of university research in a word?
SFU bills itself as "Canada's most engaged research university." How does your own work exemplify this spirit of engagement?
SFU is a top research university because of the resources and support it offer its students. I was very fortunate to have worked under the supervision of Dr. Stella Atkins, Dr. Tim Lee, Dr. David McLean, and Dr. Harvey Lui. They inspired and encouraged me to pursue my passion for dermoscopy, which I discovered through my research for my thesis. After my graduation, there were opportunities, such as Venture Connection, for researchers to transform their work into innovations and businesses. Because of my research experience and supervisors, I felt confident and determined to start my own business and take my innovation to the market.