Over the past three decades, skin cancer has become the most prevalent types of cancer, outpacing all other types of cancer combined, including of the breast, lung and prostate. Each year, more than 5.4 million skin tumors are treated in the U.S. alone, with nearly $5 billion spent on biopsies.
Until today, cutting samples from the body for biopsy has been the only way to assess whether a new growth or lesion on the skin is cancerous. Of the 14.5 million biopsies conducted each year to determine the presence of skin cancer, nearly 76 percent reveal healthy tissue, creating an alarmingly high number of unneeded and costly procedures.
Zebra Medical Technology (ZMT), a Fogarty Institute company, has found a better solution to invasive skin biopsies. The startup, led by CEO Gabriel Sanchez, is creating the next generation of medical imaging that provides a non- invasive, real-time way to examine the skin and determine the potential presence of cancer.
ZMT’s patented handheld microscope, the EagleCyte, provides the immediate imaging features of an ultrasound, but with added cellular resolution and color contrast between cells and surrounding connective tissue that significantly improves pathology.
The company has built a prototype that has proven successful in viewing cells in healthy skin and seeing signs of tumors from discarded human samples. ZMT is now building a clinical version of this technology to be used for a pilot study on patients, aiming to begin clinical studies this winter.
“We are very enthusiastic about the results we have seen to date and are particularly encouraged that our technology shows strong promise to make an immediate impact on both the clinicians, who don’t want to make unnecessary incisions, and the patients, who don’t want to be cut,” said Sanchez.
The EagleCyte is intended as an easy-to-use device that integrates seamlessly into the pathologists’ current workflow. It will display the images that pathologists already know how to interpret, but provide them in a faster and non-invasive manner.
In addition to providing an effective pathological solution, ZMT aims to help clinicians map more accurate pre-surgical borders of tumors and decrease the size and number of excisions.
Detection and treatment of skin cancer is a gateway to potential progress towards other diagnostic applications, such as identifying cancerous cells in internal organs, including the mouth, colon and cervix.
ZMT’s Zebrascope technology, the predecessor of the EagleCyte system that is designed to image skeletal muscle microstructure, is also being tested to assess muscle health as people age, as well as aid in diagnosing and treating neurodegenerative conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Clinical studies using the Zebrascope in a muscle imaging capacity are being conducted at the Fogarty Institute, Stanford University, University of Virginia, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Northwestern University.
ZMT spun out of Stanford University in 2014. Sanchez, a Ph.D. graduate in mechanical engineering from Stanford and lead inventor of the Zebrascope, co-founded the company with Scott Delp, a James H. Clark Professor of Bioengineering, Mechanical Engineering and Orthopedic Surgery at Stanford University; and Mark Schnitzer, associate professor of Biology and Applied Physics at Stanford University and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.