Early diagnosis of cancer can mean better chances of survival. A Tel Aviv startup is working to bring cervical-cancer assessment to two billion women worldwide who have access to cellphones but no access to qualified physicians.
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MobileOCT is developing a low-cost mobile colposcope – the equipment a physician uses to examine a woman’s cervix, combining light, lenses, algorithms and a mobile phone.
The company recently closed a $600,000 seed round of financing, including an investment from the United States tech and sports executive Mark Cuban. And it’s getting close to production and sale of the device.
“We use a mobile-phone camera with bright illumination from LEDs to observe the cervix,” says Chief Executive Ariel Beery. “By analyzing the way the light hits the sensor of the camera, we can draw information about the composition and structure of the tissue.”
The field is called biophotonics, or using light to characterize tissue. Beery emphasizes that this is not simple photography.
“Recognition of the way light returns from a sample contains a lot more information than the topographical image alone,” he says. “What we’re working on is ways to better observe the return of light” and understand the content of the tissue in question.
The images can then be sent to a physician, who can assess whether a particular woman might need treatment. The device never touches patients, and the technician need do nothing different than with any other colposcope, Beery notes.
Geographically, MobileOCT – Mobile Optical Cancer Technologies – is focused in far-flung low-resource areas, forming partnerships with global-health organizations. The company is currently running pilot programs with Partners in Health in Haiti, Massachusetts General Hospital’s global health group in Kenya, a joint Botswana-University of Pennsylvania health program, Pro Salud in Mexico and the Scripps medical center in San Diego.
Beery and David Levitz, both 35 and from New York, co-founded the company in October 2012. They met when Levitz, now MobileOCT’s chief technology officer, was on a post-doctorate fellowship in Israel and had an idea to use mobile phones for advanced optical imaging. Beery is co-founder and a director and former CEO of the startup accelerator PresenTense.
Beery says MobileOCT’s colposcope is an enhancement to an existing technology and doctors need do nothing different than they would with other systems. The company is pursuing the CE mark, enabling it to sell the device throughout the European Union. It is submitting a technical file for a Class 1 device: a low-risk non-invasive medical device usable in a clinic or the field. The company must provide the EU with assurances about quality control, but for now doesn’t need to go through a broader regulatory process, Beery says, adding that the trials will enable MobileOCT to measure the system’s efficacy compared with currently available colposcopes.
As for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the company is discussing with the agency how to categorize its system. The FDA is debating how to classify a mobile-phone-based medical device, Beery said.
Currently, MobileOCT’s mobile colposcope is being used under the investigational-device exemption, and the company will begin sales once the FDA indicates the required regulatory pathway, Beery says.
MobileOCT has begun taking orders and hopes to begin shipping systems in December. The company has 11 employees plus a team of volunteers and interns. It has raised a total of $825,000, including the recent funding.
Backing MobileOCT are a number of investors: Hillel Bachrach, managing partner of 20/20 HealthCare Partners and a co-founder of what is now Lumenis, the medical-laser producer; Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks pro-basketball team; Michael Eisenberg of the venture fund Aleph; Jonathan Fleming, the Boston biomedical investor; Hong Kong investment firm iVentures and New York private-equity investor Alyson Krause.