Michael Ferro Contributes $1M+ to Melanoma Research

Through the Michael and Jacqueline Ferro Foundation, in 2019 Michael Ferro contributed $1M+ in grant funding to the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), the largest non-profit funder of melanoma research. In under 2 years, the scientists who were awarded the grants have made significant progress with their research.  

Melanoma is a serious and sometimes fatal form of skin cancer. While this form of skin cancer is treatable and even curable in the early stages, it can rapidly spread to internal organs if not caught early enough. In the US, it is estimated that over 100,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2021, and over 7,000 people will die. The famous musician Bob Marley died at the age of 36 from melanoma – by that age, it had already spread to his lungs and brain. 

The signs aren’t always easy to detect – it is estimated that only 20%-30% are found in moles, while 70%-80% of melanoma skin cancer cases are found in normal-looking skin.

Ferro’s contributions are targeted to advance melanoma research focused specifically on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is already being used in healthcare for many things, including imaging analysis and data analysis, and is an effective tool with diseases like skin cancer that rely in part on imaging and biopsies to diagnose. Michael Ferro knows quite a lot about AI and diagnostics. Ferro has been granted multiple patents in AI imaging analysis, and re-built then sold the AI medical imaging company Merge Healthcare to IBM for $1B back in 2015.

After learning about the Melanoma Research Alliance’s impact in melanoma, in addition to MRA’s ability to attract top scientists, Michael knew this was an organization that enables scientists to apply cutting edge technology and research to save lives and improve patient outcomes. The Melanoma Research Alliance has granted the Michael Ferro Foundation’s donation to 3 research scientists: Dr. Veronica Rotemberg, Dr. Joann Elmore and Dr. Kamran Avanaki.

These grants have resulted in the following research on the use of AI in detecting melanoma:

Veronica Rotemberg, MD, PhD: Factors that Influence AI-based Melanoma Diagnosis

Dr. Rotemberg is a research scientist and dermatologist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, one of the premier top cancer centers in the US. In the first year of her grant award from Michael Ferro’s contributions, Dr. Veronica Rotemberg has made significant progress. Dr. Rotemberg’s research focuses on assessing the role of clinical metadata in improving the accuracy of AI in cancer diagnosis. Metadata are specific details within a piece of data, and can include things such as color, length or weight.

The metadata observed include the patient's sex and age, as well as the lesion's location. Dr. Rotemberg has uncovered that adding a patient’s age to the clinical metadata helps AI distinguish melanoma from benign lesions. This suggests that adding metadata to images of skin lesions can improve AI’s ability to detect cancerous cells.

Joann Elmore, MD, MPH: Applying AI to Assess Histologic Features to Improve Melanoma Diagnosis

Dr. Joann Elmore is a physician and research scientist based out of UCLA. She completed her medical degree at Stanford and residency at Yale, and has been continuously funded by the NIH for 25 years for her research, a major accomplishment for any scientist. Dr. Elmore has partnered with world-renowned computer scientist, Dr. Linda Shapiro. Dr. Shapiro specializes in computer analysis of complex information, including the development of AI-based diagnostic systems. 

Dr. Elmore’s approach aims to improve the overall accuracy of melanoma diagnoses.  Using images of skin biopsies, Dr. Elmore and Dr. Shapiro are looking into how computers assess cancer cell size and shape.  This research could result in faster cancer diagnosis, which may lead to more efficient treatment.

Kamran Avanaki, PhD: Enhanced-OCT for Discriminating Nevi from Melanomas

*Nevi (plural form of nevus) is the medical term for a mole

Dr. Kamran Avanaki, from the University of Illinois, Chicago, has over 32 publications, mostly focused on imaging analysis and skin cancer. Dr. Avanaki’s research using AI in melanoma diagnosis has focused on improving Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT). OCT is a medical imaging technique that has already been used to diagnose other forms of skin cancer. OCT has also demonstrated significant potential in improving the accuracy of diagnosing melanoma. 

In his research, Dr. Avanaki and his team developed an image analysis algorithm that optimizes the parameters for OCT. This has increased OCT’s accuracy in detecting melanoma. Going forward with their research, Dr. Avanaki and his team intend to improve the consistency of OCT in analyzing images. It is their hope that this could potentially detect melanoma more accurately.

About The Melanoma Research Alliance:

 The Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) is the largest non-profit funder of melanoma research. Since its founding in 2007, MRA has committed $123 million in funding to advance our understanding of this disease. MRA funds projects in the areas of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, with the majority of funding allocated for melanoma treatment. 

The mission of the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) is to end suffering and death due to melanoma by collaborating with all stakeholders to accelerate powerful research, advance cures for all patients, and prevent more melanomas. 

To donate or learn more about MRA, visit their website: https://www.curemelanoma.org/