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New tool in fight with skin cancer

WINTER is over, summer is on its way, and so is the usual deluge of slip-slop-slap advertising.

For those of you who heed the exhortations to get suspicious looking moles checked, it will soon be possible to do this by using a new camera-based diagnostic tool.

Xcell Ltd is, in fact, working on two different devices to diagnose skin cancers, with one project proceeding in partnership with the University of Western Australia. This is still in the research and development phase and is not yet ready to leave the laboratory.

The other, however, is close to receiving US Food and Drug Administration approval, which will allow it to be used in Australia. German company Visionmed has already launched its microDERM system in 14 hospitals across Europe. Directors of Xcell, which is poised to take over Visionmed, are hoping to deploy the technology here in Perth by December.

According to Xcell CEO Saliba Sassine, Visionmed is the European leader in its field, and Xcell’s acquisition will give the company an immediate position in the diagnostic market.

The R&D with UWA’s Optical and Biomedical Engineering Laboratory is potentially the next generation of technology, though it is still a few years away from reaching that stage.

“We’re looking to be the clear leader in the technology and build that into the business, so the [UWA] project gives us a different technology that might have either broader application or be suitable for broader screening purposes,” Dr Sassine said.

“The UWA project is going on track, and the German acquisition gives us position in the market immediately and access to European databases, the European market, and we expect FDA approval shortly. With the German technology we’ll have acquired a company that has the best of the Rolls Royce–type model, or to put it another way, it’s like buying the BMW 750 when UWA’s work is the 318.”

According to Xcell, microDERM is a combination of hardware and software technology that captures images of skin lesions and magnifies them by up to 50 times. Within a few seconds the system quantifies up to 50 relevant criteria, including the asymmetry, border, colour and diameter (the ABCD rule) of the skin lesion, and then calculates the probability of the lesion being malignant.

Instead of using a camera, UWA’s technology is based on the use of diffused light spectrometry. Dr Sassine explained that a diffused light is shone onto the skin, the refraction is captured and analysed, and that analysis suggests whether the mole is benign or cancerous.

Xcell’s takeover is heavily dependent on the issuing of about 20 per cent of its capital – as well as options, cash and royalties – to Visionmed’s current owners, and Xcell’s shareholders will vote on the deal in October. Dr Sassine said the company’s major shareholders approved of the deal.

Xcell, formerly Fimiston Mining NL, ventured into biotechnology in late 2000 and changed its name to Xcell in 2001.

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