By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member.
In the summer of 2010, Avery Smith’s wife, LaToya Donita-Smith, found a raised mole on her scalp. She quickly got a skin biopsy, and a month later, she was diagnosed with stage II melanoma, a type of skin cancer starting in the cells that dictate the pigment in your skin.
She received treatment, but the cancer was very aggressive. By December 2011, Donita-Smith died from the disease, several months after she and Smith lost their unborn child because of the cancer.
Smith was devastated.
“While we were going through that, one of the things I recognized, unbeknownst to me, was that healthcare wasn’t accessible across racial lines,” said Smith. “I was thinking positively, and I thought we could get the help we needed. I did not realize that the advances in dermatology and skin health were further along if you had Caucasian skin than if you had dark or Black skin.”
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), a nonprofit based in D.C., melanoma incidence is significantly lower in Black communities due to the melanin in their skin that helps block out harmful ultraviolet rays.
But, Black people who do develop melanoma are often diagnosed at a later stage, and as a result, have lower survival rates than their counterparts. In the U.S., the five-year survival rate for Black patients with melanoma was 66 percent compared to 90 percent for White patients from 2011 through 2015.
Smith, who is based in Takoma Park, Md., already had extensive experience in software engineering and web and app development, and in 2017, he discovered how artificial intelligence was being used to analyze health data and patterns.
He’d always wanted to create a platform that positively impacted peoples’ lives, and he also wanted to help other Black people protect themselves from damaging and deathly skin conditions, so he designed Melalogic.
Melalogic is a web app powered by AI that provides Black communities with skin health information and solutions from established Black dermatologists, who comprise only 3 percent of the highly competitive medical speciality.
The platform will feature a decision support system that will allow users to submit photos of their skin issues and receive instant feedback and suggestions regarding their diagnosis and treatment options.
“Also what you’ll be able to do is learn about how this particular skin issue may present itself on different skin tones, not just one but multiple skin tones per issue, because Black people come in all different shades,” said Smith.
Melalogic will also soon roll out its Black Skin Health Resource Center, a digital, interactive and immersive experience for users to learn more about skin disorders, diseases and conditions.
According to Dr. Chesahna Kindred, board-certified dermatologist and owner of Kindred Hair & Skin Center, aside from melanoma, conditions, like hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) and keloids are also more common in the Black community.
For her, the biggest hindrance to Black people receiving dermatology care is the lack of available dermatologists.
“If you look at cities that are majority Black, they’re more likely to have zero dermatologists in that city, let alone a culturally-competent one,” said Kindred. “Then, if you have a dermatologist, a lot of times they weren’t trained in Black skin, so the barrier doesn’t lie at the foot of the patient, it lies at the foot of medical education.”
Currently, Smith is calling for volunteers, particularly Black people with an understanding of their skin conditions and remedies, to share their information and data to strengthen Melalogic’s AI. He’s also looking to hire a chief technology officer and co-founder to spearhead the company’s computer vision research.
For him, Melalogic is a love letter to his community.
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