A newer application in the Apple® Application (App) Store is the MoleMapperTM app. The MoleMapperTM app can be used on the iPhone and uses the phone’s camera to track moles and other skin marks. The app was developed as part of the ResearchKit suite of apps.1 ResearchKit, in partnership with Apple, provides an open source framework that helps developers and researchers create medical research apps. ResearchKit provides researchers and developers with modules that can be customized and built upon to create innovative, and potentially powerful, apps.2 MoleMapperTM is no exception to this trend, as it has the power to help researchers collect data that can impact the landscape of skin cancer knowledge and research.
Engaging individuals in melanoma awareness
MoleMapperTM is a free app created by Dan Webster, Ph.D., a cancer biologist. Dr. Webster created the app to help individuals who have a high risk of developing melanoma, including his wife, monitor their moles. Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU), where Dr. Webster is located, has helped develop and fund the app. OHSU is committed to keeping the app free for users as a part of its War on Melanoma campaign, an effort designed to recruit and engage individuals across the United States, promoting research, education, and awareness of melanoma.3
Tracking moles and skin changes
MoleMapperTM allows individuals at risk of developing melanoma to photograph different zones of their body, and monitor moles or marks in these zones. Specific moles can then be selected to measure their actual size. These size measurements can be compared to common objects, such as a coin, to determine if they’re growing or changing. Rapid changes in growth, shape, or other mole markers may indicate that a mole could be cancerous. The app also has a feature that reminds users to self-examine moles regularly, especially those that have been previously recorded on the app.
Sharing the photos for melanoma research
The photos and data collected by MoleMapperTM can be kept for personal use, shared with healthcare providers, or, after a consent process, can be shared with researchers, along with additional surveys and other data. Not only does the app and its data have the potential to help users detect concerning moles or marks on their body, but it also allows users to participate in broad scale melanoma research, and contribute to the growing body of knowledge on the condition. This kind of data collection, powered by apps and other new technologies, is sometimes referred to as citizen-supported science.
Hoping for an increase in early diagnosis
The potential for MoleMapperTM to collect data from its users and for this data to be used for relevant and critical scientific analysis was highlighted by OHSU and Sage Bionetworks in a paper published in Nature’s Scientific Data. The paper, entitled “The Mole Mapper Study, mobile phone skin imaging and melanoma risk data collected using ResearchKit”, has verified the possibility of using the app for quality data collection and research.4 Although the app cannot diagnose melanoma at this time, the hope is that with enough engagement, photos, and data collected from users all over the country (and beyond), diagnosis may be possible.
Not a substitute for dermatoligst visits
It is important to note that MoleMapperTM is not designed to deliver medical advice, professional opinion, diagnosis, or treatment. While the app may help individuals monitor for signs of melanoma, especially in between appointments with dermatologists or other skin health professionals, it should not take the place of visiting your healthcare provider regularly.