Innovative App will Help Medical Students Easily Identify Skin Lesions

An ARCHES-funded project is getting closer to creating a life-like skin model.

OCT 4, 2018

Hand holding examples of skin lesionsDr. Thomas Golemon, Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria (UICOMP), has spent a lifetime treating patients and educating medical students in Texas and Illinois.

Throughout the years, he has had a specific interest in the identification, diagnosis and treatment of skin lesions, or skin masses and other abnormalities. It is a skill that he has passed on to many medical students and residents in family medicine.

For a number of years, Dr. Golemon has sought to develop a realistic model of skin that accurately portrays the characteristics of different skin irregularities. But nothing was quite perfect, and typical synthetic models did not replicate what was needed. Many lesions medical students and residents learn about are only seen in the clinic once every three or four years. Others present a specific surface texture or rash pattern that are difficult to simulate. Clinical photographs were helpful but not enough.

“How can I come up with a realistic lesion that will actually look and feel like the real thing?” Dr. Golemon wondered. Early discussions with the Jump Simulation Medical Visualization team explored several potential solutions, from newer silicone models and mixed (augmented) reality to 3D printing.

The innovative, collaborative Jump Applied Research for Community Health through Engineering and Simulation program or ARCHES provided the perfect answer. The endowment program, a partnership between OSF HealthCare and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), awarded a grant in March 2018 to Dr. Golemon (UICOMP), Dr. Stephen Boppart (UIUC), Dr. Roshan Dsouza (UIUC) and Scott Barrows (Jump/OSF Innovation/UICOMP) to develop a novel solution.

Creating Life-Like Skin

Housed in the Biophotonics Imaging Lab at the Beckman Institute, the UIUC portion of our team is creating an interactive mobile application that has an expansive skin lesion photo database. It’s designed to work in combination with a semi-clear and surface-textured skin model that simulates skin lesions and their biomechanical properties.

The synthetic skin is designed to be nearly see-through so that smartphone-based images of skin abnormalities can be shown through the models. A computational feedback loop between the projecting and imaging smartphones is incorporated to improve the color and visual appearance of the digital image that is being shown through the synthetic skin. The result will be an adaptive simulation and training platform for skin lesions.

“This project has the potential to significantly advance medical simulations, education and training not only in dermatology, but also in all general medical specialties that examine the skin,” said Dr. Boppart. “Currently, most training occurs through viewing photographs of skin lesions or examining patients. This project advances this educational experience by giving students the ability to see, touch and feel realistic skin lesions.”

Our Peoria team at Jump is working to create and catalogue the skin lesion image library and coordinate the integration of those images with the mobile technology. The new learning platform will be made available for both Android and Apple iOS mobile devices. Testing and evaluation will take place at UICOMP and in clinical settings.

What’s next?

The vision for the next-generation platform includes electro-activated skin models where the surface topography and material stiffness can be controlled electronically by the mobile application, depending on the skin lesion or pathology being simulated.

The project team has discussed future applications such as artificial intelligence (AI)-assisted diagnosis and the development of skin models that can be used to practice removing skin lesions. The team also hopes to integrate augmented reality to provide “under the surface” views and pathologies that cannot be seen on the surface.


barrows_scott.pngScott Barrows was previously vice president of marketing at a biotechnology laboratory in Virginia, and vice president of creative at a medical software “think tank” in Nevada. Barrows is a clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria and retains the role of clinical assistant professor in biomedical visualization at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was also an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Barrows has been the recipient of numerous awards, including recognition from two U.S. Presidents, the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Illinois. 

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