Alex Wong

Faculty of Engineering

> Canada Research Chair in Medical Imaging Systems
> David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science
> Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging
> Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology

A new imaging device that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and deep-tissue scans of our bodies can detect skin cancer earlier – without doing biopsies.

Alexander Wong, a professor in the Faculty of Engineering, and his research team are sharing the technology through their spinoff company, Elucid Labs, which was named among the Top 20 Most Innovative Technology Companies in Canada by the Canadian Information Exchange.

At the heart of Wong’s research is what’s known as “deep learning AI,” a type of very powerful machine learning that is inspired by the brain and can take a wealth of data and then learn how to do a task on its own without explicit instructions.

Breakthrough provides state-of-the-art cancer screening

“I’m very proud of my students who went on to create the company,” says Wong, Canada Research Chair in Medical Imaging Systems. Two other co-founders are Iman Khodadad (PhD ’17) and Farnoud Kazemzadeh (PhD ’16).

Alex Wong with his PhD students

“Recently we’ve made a breakthrough in building deep-learning AI that, when combined with our deep-tissue scanning technology, provides state-of-the-art cancer screening and assistance to clinicians.”

The new technology could have huge implications for healthy aging.

“One of the key things that’s unique about Waterloo is the fact that we’re not only just about developing the big ideas,” Wong says. “We’re also about executing and translating those big ideas into something that can actually have a strong economic and social impact.

“For example, we’ve also made a recent breakthrough in my research group in building deep-learning AI as much as two orders of magnitude more compact. That means we’re able to get real-time, powerful, deep-learning AI on compact embedded devices, mobile devices, IOT devices.”

Given the rising prevalence of skin cancer, Wong’s team is excited about the potential of the next-generation deep-tissue sequencing device to save lives and change the way skin cancers are diagnosed.

Skin cancers can be hard to detect

Many skin cancers can be hard to catch, meaning that early diagnosis is absolutely essential – and Wong’s team is working closely with medical practitioners to ensure what’s being done meets their needs.

Wong says his team, supported by the University of Waterloo’s commitment to fostering entrepreneurship, is inspired by research that makes a difference in people’s lives.

“Taking the core of research and turning it into a practical, commercial reality is unique and encouraged at Waterloo,” Wong says. “That’s facilitated by the fact that we have a very open intellectual-property policy that really helps students and faculty innovate and bring things into the marketplace where it has a real impact on people.”