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Israeli firms pioneering screening techniques for women’s cancers

TEL AVIV (JTA) — To save women in Kenya from cervical cancer, all you need is an iPhone.

That’s the goal of MobileOCT, a year-old Israeli start-up developing a smartphone-mounted camera that can take a detailed image of the cervix. An accompanying app will read the image, analyze it and determine whether a tumor is present.

“We’re banking on the fact that every person we give a cellphone to knows how to take a picture on the cellphone,” said Ariel Beery, MobileOCT’s co-founder and CEO. “You can supply affordable diagnosis without access to doctors.”

MobileOCT is one of several Israeli start-ups aiming to revolutionize screening processes for cervical and breast cancer. Several are focused on bringing the technologies to the developing world.

Early detection of both cancers is key to successful treatment, but generally only advanced countries have widespread access to the technology that makes it possible. Poor countries often lack the requisite equipment or professional medical personnel for an early diagnosis.

“We think that a woman, even if she lives in the most remote corner of Minnesota or Africa or China, should get the same care as someone who lives next to Johns Hopkins,” said Boaz Arnon, founder and chief technology officer of Real Imaging, a start-up developing screening technology for breast cancer. “If this woman lives in Africa, there’s no radiologist.”

Founded in 2006, Real Imaging is now testing a system that takes several detailed, noninvasive image scans of breasts — including a 3-D image and an infrared scan — to fill gaps left by a traditional mammogram.

The system — called Metabolic Imaging and Risk Assessment, or MIRA — features algorithms that provide an initial read on whether or not a tumor is present, reducing the need for a trained radiologist to make a diagnosis. Real Imaging hopes to bring the system to market next year.

“The machines are sensitive to the shape and makeup of the breast,” said Real Imaging CEO Maiki Yoeli. “We provide the perfect tool for the radiologist and the hospital and primary care doctors to assist women for whom there is unclear evidence” of a tumor.

For Beery, who co-founded MobileOCT with biomedical engineer David Levitz, keeping the camera mobile and affordable was the key to tailoring it for use in the developing world. Using layers of lenses and prisms less than one inch in diameter, the camera takes a sharp image of the very outer layer of the skin as well as the one beneath it, creating a cross-section where the cancer will be visible.

MobileOCT hopes to market the device, which costs $800, to nongovernmental groups providing health-care services in eastern Africa and Mexico by the spring of 2015. In October, the company took first place at a competition at mHealth Israel, a mobile health-care device conference, winning free services from a range of consulting firms.

Other Israeli start-ups also are developing alternative technologies for breast and cervical cancer screenings. Vayyar Imaging, founded in 2010, just raised a reported $12 million to detect breast tumors using radio frequency waves. Biop Medical, founded last year, uses advanced high-resolution optics to yield a detailed image of the cervix.

Like Mobile OCT, Biop’s detailed imaging will allow for a quick diagnosis and also will be useful in the developing world. The system allows for imaging and diagnosis in one appointment, with no need for a gynecologist.

Beery founded MobileOCT after eight years at PresenTense, the Jewish social entrepreneurship organization he started with a college friend. Although he now works in a different field, Beery says both organizations fill gaps in society through entrepreneurship.

“We thought, where can we serve the largest number of people in the largest possible market?” Beery said. “For us it was a natural thing to move toward an underserved need.”

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