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Iranian-Canadian Professor Designs Medical Imaging Prototype

By Grace Nasri, Iran Times

An Iranian-Canadian engineering professor has helped design software that can assist doctors in computer analysis of medical images.

University of Waterloo engineering Professor Hamid Tizhoosh told Ontario's Waterloo Region Record his team has found a solution to a problem plaguing scientists for years.  The problem is based on the fact that, to date, no computer programs have been able to properly and accurately analyze medical images in the same way that human beings can.

In an effort to find a solution, Tizhoosh and his colleagues incorporated research on artificial intelligence with the field of medical imaging. The result is Segasist, a computer program that gradually learns a doctor's biases and preferences until it can think like that doctor when analyzing an image.

The prototype's results have been promising enough to garner a $750,000 venture capital investment for Omisa Inc., the spinoff company created to commercialize the technology.

Omisa stands for Omni-Modality Intelligent Segmentation Assistant. Segmentation refers to the identification of objects, such as organs, lesions and tumors, from an MRI, CT scan, ultrasound or similar image.

Currently, existing computer programs do such a poor job at segmentation that doctors often spend time analyzing medical images and picking out objects themselves using programs like Adobe Photoshop.

"You see highly qualified surgeons sitting in their offices using the mouse and manually clicking point-by-point where is the tumor for those images," Tizhoosh told the Record.

The Iranian-born professor first became aware of the problem when he was working on a Ph.D. project in Germany in the 1990s; the project involved improving the quality of images for radiation therapy.

When the Iran Times asked how he became interested in this issue, he said, "Within my Ph.D. studies I had to work with several radiologists and visit clinics for radiology. I observed that radiologists and other clinicians, including surgeons, spend a lot of time on manual marking of lesions and tumors either to make a diagnosis by characterizing the tumor or to plan the treatment.  I also realized that there is a huge gap between the objective understanding of engineers on one side and the subjective perception of medical experts on the other side. I started working on methods that could bridge that gap, what is reflected in my Ph.D. thesis and in my book 'Fuzzy Image Processing,' which was published in German during my Ph.D. studies."

The professor studied engineering with a major in technical computer science at the University of Technology in Aachen, Germany and received his doctorate from the University of Magdeburg, Germany, in the field of medical image analysis.

In 2000, Tizhoosh immigrated to Canada and joined the University of Waterloo one year later. He developed the Omisa technology over the next several years with the help of graduate students.

In 2006, a $25,000 grant from the Ontario Centers of Excellence helped the team develop a prototype based on their technology.  The University of Waterloo helped commercialize the technology; for that, the university will receive 25 per cent of Omisa's revenues.

Last year, intellectual property consultant Jacqueline Csonka-Peeren, a veteran of electronics manufacturer Celestica Inc., was hired as Omisa's president and, in December, venture capital firm First Leaside Visions LP of Uxbridge invested $750,000 in Omisa.

"We felt they had a great product that could demonstrate both cost savings and better outcomes in the health-care system," Douglas Hyatt, a consultant with First Leaside, told the Record.  "We felt that with our money and other funds they were able to raise, they would be able to do their development work throughout this time and will have a market open to them when we pull out of this recession."

The prototype is set to be turned into software, and Omisa expects radiologists will be able to try out the program this summer. Omisa's goal is to have the software ready for the Radiological Society of North America convention in Chicago next fall.

When the Iran Times asked Tizhoosh what he hoped his prototype would do, he said:

"Presently, all available software solutions in medical image analysis deliver results that the medical expert-radiologist, oncologist, surgeon etc.-usually does not find accurate with respect to the medical knowledge. Hence, the medical experts frequently modify the results-mainly the outline of the lesion or tumor. However, the existing software solutions do not learn anything from these user modifications and continue to deliver the same result over and over again if the same image or a similar one is processed.

"Our software learns over time how the radiologist changes the results in order to provide more accurate tumor marking, which results in the most striking feature of this software."

He said, "In addition, since Segasist stores the knowledge of individual radiologists, it can provide a second opinion to any radiologist if the software is being used within a network of radiologists-e.g. a hospital or, even better, a network of hospitals.

"This second opinion is automatically created based on the stored knowledge of all radiologists and can be provided instantly. This will reduce errors and save costs," Tizhoosh told the Iran Times.

About Iran Times: The Iran Times is an independent newspaper with no affiliation with any political party or faction The Iran Times corporation was founded in Washington D.C. in 1970, in accordance with U.S. federal and local regulations:

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