Magnosco apparatus scans arm
Healthcare

Healthcare

Using light to detect skin cancer

When moles change shape or colour, dermatologists often take tissue samples to rule out the possibility of skin cancer. But is it always necessary? Magnosco GmbH has developed a device that uses a combination of laser light and artificial intelligence to make diagnosis easier. We would like to introduce the 2018 winner of the KfW Entrepreneurs' Award from the state of Berlin.

Ground-breaking invention

At the 2018 KfW Entrepreneurs' Award Magnosco GmbH was the winner for the state of Berlin (KfW Group/n-tv). This video is available in German only.

To get to Magnosco GmbH, you have to cross the former grounds of the Academy of Sciences of the German Democratic Republic in Berlin-Adlershof. The streets here are named after Nobel Prize winners. In one of the nondescript buildings, the team of twelve developers, scientists, biologists and physicists has reason to celebrate: today the first DermaFC, their device for skin cancer diagnostics, was supplied to a doctor's office.

It's been a long road to get here. Back in 2010, the future founder Dr Hans-Georg Giering was already considering continuing a research project on dermatofluoroscopy in the form of an independent company. The procedure is a method used to detect skin cancer with laser light. The decision to further develop the functional prototype into a product ready for series production led to the foundation of Magnosco in 2014. Three years later he handed the reins to the business to Inga Bergen, who manages the company together with Thomas Diepold and Dr Sebastian Ahlberg.

The Magnosco scanner
Laser technology

The Magnosco device excites melanin fluorescence in the skin, making it possible to detect diseased cells.

Melanomas are the most common form of cancer worldwide with more than three million cases a year. If they go unnoticed, the mini-tumours quickly metastasise and the patients have little chance of survival, making early detection vital. But even experienced dermatologists are not always sure whether skin discoloration is cause for concern. As a result, a tissue sample is usually taken and analysed in the laboratory. Fortunately, the results are negative in 90% of cases. But patients aren't just left with a small scar. They have undergone an agonising period of uncertainty, as it often takes up to two weeks to get the results. Valuable time that is wasted if treatment needs to be started.

This is where Magnosco comes in. Dr Sebastian Ahlberg explains what happens inside the new device: "The melanin in our skin is responsible for pigmentation. We stimulate the melanin fluorescence in the skin with a special laser technology which makes the melanin glow. The light emitted is captured by a detector. Our special method is two-photon stimulation, in which two short energy impulses are emitted in quick succession onto the area of skin under examination. This allows us to assess melanin fluorescence without being affected by the fluorescence of other substances in the skin. If the melanin fluorescence is more visible in the green or bluish range, the cell is healthy. Stronger fluorescence in the red range is an indicator of diseased cells."

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KfW Entrepreneurs' Award 2018

In October 2018, the KfW Entrepreneurs' Award (formerly known as GründerChampions (StartUp Champions)) recognised 16 state winners and one national winner for their business ideas. Magnosco won the KfW Entrepreneurs' Award from the state of Berlin.

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This form of analysis is combined with artificial intelligence (AI). To this end, Magnosco developed an algorithm that evaluates the signals and calculates a score, which helps the doctor with diagnosis. Data must first be collected in order to use artificial intelligence. Thomas Diepold explains: "We conducted clinical trials at the Charité hospital in Berlin and the university clinics in Tübingen and Heidelberg. Skin changes that doctors judged to be critical constitute the basis. The algorithm is trained to identify pathological changes and provide an indication of whether a melanoma is present."

For patients, the screening is another way to check for suspicious pigmentation. One major advantage is how fast the process is. After the pain-free examination, which lasts only a few minutes, a number appears on the screen. If it is higher than a risk factor, the collection of a tissue sample is recommended.

The device invented by Magnosco
More ideas in store

Development work at Magnosco continues even now that the first screening device has been delivered. For example, there are plans to develop an app to enable individuals to monitor changes in their skin themselves.

State health insurance schemes do not yet cover the costs. In most cases, it takes many years for a new technology to establish itself with the insurance companies; further trials are also needed. But there is great interest among the doctors themselves. The costs are low – the DermaFC is available in a license model and is billed per examination.

Thomas Diepold is proud of their accomplishments so far: "In order to bring a medical product to market, you don't just need an innovative idea, you also need stamina to implement it. And, of course, money. Another round of financing is imminent and we are looking for investors. The positive feedback has made us confident, and we still have a few ideas up our sleeve. For example, we are planning to develop an app to allow individuals to monitor changes in their skin themselves and, of course, to further develop the device. We want to be able to offer this diagnostic tool to every doctor and thus help to reduce the rising rates of skin cancer. I think it's wonderful to be able to work on something so important here!"

Published on KfW Stories: Thursday, 18 October 2018

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All United Nations member states adopted the 2030 Agenda in 2015. At its heart is a list of 17 goals for sustainable development, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our world should become a place where people are able to live in peace with each other in ways that are ecologically compatible, socially just, and economically effective.