International students in Windsor are creating an app using AI to detect skin cancer

Some of the research being conducted at the University of Windsor in southwestern Ontario is set to have groundbreaking effects on Canada — and the rest of the world.

From India to Sudan, students at University of Windsor are shaping the city's future

Three students pose for a photo and the one in the middle holds a laptop.
Almiqdad Elzein, Ifran Andleeb and Vaibhav Patel, left to right, have all been working together on an app for skin cancer detection. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

International students at the University of Windsor (UWindsor) are working on an app that could revolutionize skin cancer detection. 

App users can upload images of areas on their skin they are worried about and AI technology can identify whether the problem area is melanoma

Ifran Andleeb came from India and has been in Canada for eight months as a master's student in electrical and computer engineering.

"We are done with the theoretical researching part [and we] are trying to deploy our model in a web app so that everyone in the country can use the app — it will be on your fingertips," Andleeb explained to CBC News. "Even though this research was medically based, we did not have any medical background, so we had to go through some resources so that we totally understand."

These international students are working on an app for skin cancer diagnosis

2 months ago
Duration 2:14
Three international graduate students at the University of Windsor are working on an app intended to provide a accessible and efficient method of diagnosing skin cancer. Ifran Andleeb, Vaibhav Patel and Almiqdad Elzein spoke with Windsor Morning's Amy Dodge.

Almiqdad Elzein, who is from Sudan, is also a master's student in electrical and computer engineering. He has been working in AI for four years and explained how the app's efficiency in identifying skin cancer will set it apart from more conventional — and slower — methods. 

"Right now, most skin cancer detection is done through biopsies," Elzein said. "There are works in the artificial intelligence community that are currently attempting to apply machine learning and artificial intelligence to skin cancer detection, but it has not yet gone mainstream — you would not find this in regular hospitals. It's work in progress."

Doing it on an a periodic basis allows for an earlier detection if such condition exists- Almiqdad Elzein

But how does AI work in the context of a medical app? 

"[If] we imagine that we analyzed pictures of different skin conditions and we teach a model, through millions or hundreds of thousands of samples, how to differentiate between skin cancer, melanoma, and specific versus other more benign skin conditions," Elzein said. 

Elzein said the app has the potential to provide three main benefits to communities.

"Firstly, the, detection is done in noninvasive way, in contrast to biopsies, which is quite invasive. Secondly, it, does not require a lot of advanced medical technology, which may not be available in all areas. Thirdly, it is a way to mainstream detection," he said.

"Doing it on an a periodic basis allows for an earlier detection if such condition exists."

Shanthi Johnson poses for a photograph with a grey background.
Shanthi Johnson is vice-president of research and innovation at the University of Windsor. (University of Windsor)

A fellow master's student from India, Vaibhav Patel, said this technology will become more vital as temperatures continue to rise.

"That's what we learned about while researching this particular topic," Patel said. "It's going to be more and more dangerous going forward, so making it accessible for everyone, and enabling everyone to have routine checks themselves can really reduce the mortality rate."

Being from another place

While international students do experience hardships that can come from moving from their country of origin, they can flourish at institutions such as UWindsor. 

"International students are incredibly important. They bring so many assets from their own home countries," vice-president of research and innovation Shanthi Johnson said. "They have tremendous life and world experience, but they're also making a big difference in taking learning experience back to their country, and also enriching our local community and other students."
A melanoma spot.
Detecting skin cancer conventionally involves timely and invasive procedures like biopsies. (The Canadian Press)

Andleeb remarked that apart from the hard work she's been putting into research, it can be challenging being an international student. 

"You also have your own research going on, because this research is an outcome of a course," she said. "And being an international student, you have a lot going at home."

Despite being far from Sudan, Elzein said the opportunities in Windsor allow for him to pursue his passions.

"Certainly, the research facilities in Canada are more advanced, which allows for the fast tracking of the research, in addition to the expertise that exists at the university." 


Oliver Thompson is a writer, producer and musician. Originally from the UK, where he worked for the BBC, Oliver moved to Canada in 2018.

With files from Amy Dodge