New device allows dermatologists to detect melanoma much sooner


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist JOHN GUSKY

Posted on November 29, 2012 at 8:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 29 at 8:01 PM

AUSTIN -- One person dies from melanoma every hour in the United States. Now a new device, with unlikely ties to the U.S. Department of Defense, is helping doctors diagnose the disease much sooner.

28-year-old Shannon Kelly's family has an extensive history of melanoma. She's already undergone nearly 30 mole biopsies.

"The fear is huge," Kelly said.  "I'm outside every single day training dogs. Just watching what my grandfather has gone through with all the surgeries, and watching my mom go through the same thing - getting lymph nodes removed - it's terrifying."  

But Kelly has something that neither her mother nor grandfather had in the fight against melanoma. The device is called MelaFind. It is a computer that uses 10 different wavelengths of light and allows dermatologists to see 10 levels down into the skin.

"It allows us to look 2.5 millimeters below the skin surface," said dermatologist Laura Speck. "We have no other device in dermatology that lets us to that. That tells us with 98 percent sensitivity if a lesion is a melanoma and needs to be biopsied or not."

The creators of MelaFind were working with the U.S. Department of Defense when they were approached by dermatologists to see if that same computer vision technology -- that could access military targets precisely -- could be used to see deep under the skin.

"Medicine advances with technology, but there's been virtually no technology in dermatology," said Josef Gulfo, President and CEO of MelaFind. "When a cardiologist is uncertain after an EKG and a stethoscope, they have an echocardiogram. When a dermatologist is uncertain after using his eyes he doesn't have that. He or she says, 'Do I biopsy or not?' We're offering dermatologists what the cardiologist have had for 20 years which is an echocardiogram for the skin."  

"It's amazing," said Kelly, who underwent her first MelaFind treatment. "I think one of the best parts is not having to get biopsies. Going under the knife is never fun. I can actually see what she's doing while she's doing it with all the different layers. I understand it a lot more than getting the pathology reports back two weeks later and in the meantime worrying whether they are going to be good or bad."

Doctors say melanoma is one of more curable cancers if detected and treated early. Westlake Dermatology is the first and only practice currently using this new technology in Austin. Normally it costs $150 per treatment. But the procedure is free during the first week of December for patients who make a skin, cancer appointment.

Here's a link with more information on MelaFind and Westlake Dermatology: Http://