IBM announces two new partnerships with MoleMap New Zealand and Melanoma Institute Australia to advance research in melanoma identification

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Auckland, New Zealand - 27 Jun 2016: IBM Research has announced a research agreement with MoleMap New Zealand to help further advance the identification of melanoma using cognitive technology. It builds on planned research with Melanoma Institute Australia. IBM Research plans to analyse dermatological images of skin lesions to help identify specific clinical patterns in the early stages of melanoma1. The New Zealand and Australian research aims to help reduce unnecessary biopsies and help clinicians more accurately understand skin cancer, which could help to improve patient care.

Despite public awareness programs and efforts to address its prevalence, New Zealand has the highest rate of melanoma skin cancer in the world – eclipsing Australia as the most dangerous place to be exposed to the sun – with fifty cases of melanoma per 100,000 people2. Current statistics indicate that two in three people will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70, yet 95 to 99 per cent of all skin cancers are preventable3. Early diagnosis of skin cancer is critical for survival rates, notably for melanoma which is considered among the most life threatening. According to Melanoma New Zealand, over 4,000 New Zealanders are diagnosed each year with melanoma and an estimated 300 die of the disease every year4.

Using advanced visual analytics, IBM Research will conduct retrospective analysis on de-identified data supplied by MoleMap, which will include access to more than one million images from 9,000 New Zealand and Australian patients and text-based clinical notes to improve the accuracy of its machine learning algorithms. IBM’s cognitive technology will aim to learn to recognise skin cancers such as melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma using lower resolution clinical images, with a similar accuracy to what can be achieved with dermoscopy images.

“Melanomas are often missed in routine skin checks, as doctors don’t always have the technology or skills to recognise them, particularly in the early stages. Our aim at MoleMap is to detect melanoma earlier and more accurately, so partnering with IBM and using its cognitive capabilities to help drive this forward made perfect sense for us. We’re looking forward to seeing what we can achieve together to help fight this deadly disease,” said Adrian Bowling, CEO of MoleMap. Since 1997 MoleMap has seen more than 200,000 patients and assessed more than 6 million lesions through 50 clinics across New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

The planned research with MoleMap and Melanoma Institute Australia follows on from an initial joint IBM MoleMap investigation in 2015 whereby IBM Research performed retrospective analysis of complex and versatile data sets of 40,000 images, dermatology opinion and diagnosis on each image, spanning three types of skin cancer and twelve benign disease groups. This formative testing on historical data suggested an accuracy of detection of melanoma from among 12 various benign skin diseases of 91 percent on dermoscopy images, and 83 percent on clinical photography images. MoleMap and Melanoma Institute Australia will help IBM Research to further train and validate the algorithms to help improve the understanding and identification of early stages of melanoma, which could help to improve patient care. The planned research aims to scale and test this performance.

Dr. Joanna Batstone, Vice President and Lab Director, IBM Research – Australia and New Zealand said, “Cognitive computing has the ability to process vast amounts of complex data including images and text very quickly, something that isn’t possible by usual manual methods. Another major benefit of the self-learning technology is that it improves as more and more data is fed into it. This initiative could inform future research and, potentially, development of offerings that could have enormous implications for the both the New Zealand public and the health system.”

Melanoma Institute Australia operates the world’s largest melanoma research and treatment facility and controls the largest melanoma research database in the world. Professor Graham Mann, Research Director at Melanoma Institute Australia explained, “Research that enables the earlier detection of melanoma is likely to save more lives in the future. The five-year survival rate for melanoma is only 64 percent once the disease reaches the lymph nodes. However this rises to 95 percent if detected before then. Diagnosing melanoma with the naked eye is only about 60 percent accurate, but dermoscopy can lift that to over 80%. Research using automated analysis of images could provide the next gain in accuracy, especially where dermoscopy is hard to access.”

The news further complements IBM’s existing research into skin cancer image analysis with the world’s oldest and largest private cancer centre, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the United States.

About IBM Research
For more information about IBM Research, visit, or follow @IBMResearch on Twitter

About MoleMap
MoleMap is one of the world’s largest melanoma screening programme having managed the risk of over 200,000 patients across Australia, New Zealand and the USA. By combining proprietary imaging and tele-health technologies with a validated clinical procedure that in turn is linked to a global pool of melanoma experts, MoleMap is able to offer its customers peace of mind that they will pick up melanoma at the earliest possible stage.

About Melanoma Institute Australia 
Melanoma Institute Australia is a non-profit, non-government Australian organisation dedicated to preventing and curing melanoma by pioneering advances in research and treatment that are making a difference to the lives of patients today. Find out more at 


1 All statements regarding IBM’s future direction and intent are subject to change or withdrawal without notice, and represents goals and objections only.

Skin Cancer in Australia: Our National Cancer, Report on the Inquiry into Skin Cancer in Australia, House of Representatives, Standing Committee on Health, March 2015


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