Alex Wong

Systems Design Engineering

Improving Early Diagnosis to Save Lives


By Katie Webb, CBB Biographer
January 9, 2013

Some cancers can be treated with high levels of success, if found early. The requirement to catch cancer in its earliest stages places a high emphasis on their early detection. Consistent and accurate early diagnosis of cancers such as skin and prostate cancers can save lives. Unfortunately, diagnosis at an early stage is not always consistent. Centre for Biotechnology and Bioengineering researcher and University of Waterloo Assistant Professor Alex Wong is working to address this problem. Motivated by his desire to meaningfully contribute to improving quality of life for all individuals, Wong is working on clinical decision support systems for assisting in the diagnosis of prostate and skin cancers.

To improve the consistency and accuracy of diagnosis, Wong is creating a computer system to assist those physicians who specialize in the diagnosis of cancer. For the time being, Wong is working specifically on the diagnosis of prostate cancer, because of the high success in treating it when caught during its initial stages. His system, which is both able to work with greater consistency than humans and learn from past cases, will be used by physicians in identifying potentially problematic areas or tissues and comparing them to previous knowledge.

In improving the scientific manner in which diagnosis of prostate cancer takes place, Wong is addressing the process of diagnosis from start to finish. Using an interdisciplinary approach, Wong is building a system which follows this entire process, assisting physicians from the first capture of data through to diagnoses through improved data collection, analysis, and decision making. While the system will certainly never be able to replace the expertise of the physicians which it assists, it can help create a greater sense of agreement and consistency in cases when different physicians would diagnosis a patient differently.

Wong is also working on creating a better MRI system that recognizes cancer indicators such as tissue characteristics, size, and shape. This will allow for enhancements to cancer detection from the earliest stages and, with the addition of the software that Wong is working on, will allow information to be captured in a more useful manner with a greater level of information for diagnosis present. This will also allow for greater accuracy in the localization of cancer cells, allowing for less invasive treatment. This is especially important as more localized and accurate treatment is correlated with faster recovery.

Wong is currently working to move his system beyond the theoretical and into clinical trials. Early results indicate that his system can quite successfully help physicians to make better decisions on prostate cancer diagnosis. Wong is also looking to expand his system to test for other types of cancer for which early detection is essential, such as skin cancer. By detecting these cancers early and localizing them appropriately to ensure the least possible invasive treatment, Wong’s system is providing an increased chance of successful and quick recovery for those with prostate cancer.

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