Weather you think that the Artificial Intelligence will eventually wipe out humanity or believe that it could be our greatest ally, one thing is clear — AI is already here. Examples? A human-like robot Sophia, who “hopes to be emotionally intelligent”, personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, Uber navigation system or apps on your smartphone that predict user actions — this is all AI.

Sophia the robot

How Artificial Intelligence is defined

Here’s the textbook definition of AI, coined by the Stanford researcher John McCarthy in 1956

AI is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs. It is related to the similar task of using computers to understand human intelligence, but AI does not have to confine itself to methods that are biologically observable.

Put more simply,

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the intelligence of machines. It is about designing machines that can think.

AI and cancer research

Artificial Intelligence is being successfully applied in a number of fields, including cancer research.

Cancer is a global health concern, it has no particular demographics and can affect anyone, regardless of age, ethnicity or genetics. According to the American Cancer Society about half of all men and one-third of all women in the US will develop cancer during their lifetimes.

cancer statistics

Discovering a cure for cancer is one of the humanities biggest challenges. Luckily for all of us, there is a bunch of brilliants and ambitious entrepreneurs using Artificial Intelligence algorithms to help us diagnose and fight cancer.

Cyrcadia Health, early breast wellness screening

cancer screening bra

  • Headquarters: Reno, Nevada
  • Founder: Matt Benardis
  • Categories: Biotechnology, SaaS, Predictive Analytics

The World Health Organization says that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women both in the developed and less developed world. It also states that in the developing countries the majority of cases are diagnosed in late stages due to the lack of early detection programmes.

Cyrcadia Health, the Nevada-based start-up, is on a mission to make an accurate self-breast examination affordable for all women. The company has developed the intelligent breast patches that detect circadian temperature changes within breast tissue. These patches are comfortable and can be inserted under any brassiere which makes self-breast exams easier than ever.

The insert (or the iTbra) uses machine-learning algorithms to collect data and communicate it to the Cyrcadia Health core lab for analysis. Once the data is analyzed, it can be sent both to the woman and her health care provider.

Early detection of cancer is key.  As American Cancer Society says

“There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer. But there are things all women can do that might reduce their risk and help increase the odds that if cancer does occur, it will be found at an early, more treatable stage.”

Grail, early cancer screening

Grail CEO, Jeff Huber

  • Headquarters: Menlo Park, California
  • CEO: Jeff Huber
  • Categories: Medical Device, Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Life Science

Cancer diagnosed at an early stage is more likely to be treated successfully, reports the Cancer Research UK. GRAIL, a San Francisco start-up, aims to invent a blood-test that can detect cancer early before symptoms appear.

Jeff Huber, the CEO of Grail, lost his wife to cancer. She was 46, healthy, fit and full of energy. By the time she was diagnosed, cancer had already spread through her liver, abdomen, chest and all the way up to her neck. “That’s a big part of why I’m taking this up,” Huber says about Grail. 

Developing an early detection test is a challenge because “the underlying mechanisms of cancer are even more diverse and elusive than previously understood”. “Cancer is not one thing,” says Huber. “It is really driven by mutations. Every case of cancer is unique. It is a snowflake. Being able to [find it] with medical and statistical rigor drives clinical studies of unprecedented scale.” Any cancer research of this scale is a “capital intensive path”, as the CEO of Grail put it.

In January the company announced that it plans to raise $1 billion in venture capital in its second financing round. Business Wire reports that “the company has secured over $100 million in Series A financing from Illumina, Inc. and ARCH Venture Partners, with participating investors including Bezos Expeditions, Bill Gates, Sutter Hill Ventures, and GV (formerly Google Ventures).”

SkinVision, a skin cancer checker app

SkinVison app

Headquarters: Amsterdam, Noord-Holland

Founders: Victor Anastasiu, Mircea Popa

Categories: Health Care, Lifestyle

According to melanoma accounts for about 1% of all skin cancers diagnosed in the United States, but it causes most of the skin cancer deaths. Cancer Research UK reports that almost everyone (almost 100%) will survive their cancer for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed with stage 1 melanoma. However, stage 4 skin cancer survival rate is much lower — only 10%

SkinVision is a mobile app that allows to analyze the risk factors for skin cancer by taking a picture of skin in potentially problematic areas. Here’s how it works:

  1. You take a picture of a mole or skin condition
  2. The app analyzes the photo in seconds and gives you recommendations
  3. Now you can save the picture and share it with you doctor.

The quality of photos is good enough to be examined by a dermatologist which makes SkinVision a useful tool for doctors. The app is great for keeping track of changes of skin condition as well as helping you understand the UV index and your skin type.


MobileODT, a biomedical startup

mobile odt


Headquarters: Tel Aviv, Israel

Founders: Ariel Beery MPA/MA, David Levitz Ph.D.

Categories: Mobile Optical Detection Technologies

Poor, if any access to lifesaving cervical cancer screenings kills thousands of women every year. According to the National Institute of Health report, 80% of cervical cancer cases occur in developing countries. Like most cancers, it is easily preventible if caught in its pre-cancerous stage. Yet, the disease kills 270,00 per year, particularly in South and Central America and East Africa.

One solution is introducing affordable and accessible cancer screening tools, and this solution is literally in your pocket — it is a smartphone. In developing countries far more people have access to smartphones than to affordable healthcare. What’s more, “out of the world’s estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to mobile phones. Only 4.5 billion have access to working toilets”, says Times.

Apart from connecting you to Instagram, Facebook and CandyCrush, your phone can potentially serve a higher purpose — help detect cancer. Mobile ODT has developed an optical diagnostic device — colposcope — that works in tandem with smartphones for cervical cancer screening. “It is cheap, accessible, and wide-ranging due to the global ubiquity of smartphones”, states Geektime. Well, cheap compared to a traditional colposcope that can cost up to $15,000. The Tel Aviv start-up has managed to reduce the price of their colposcope to $1,800, or $800 each if a clinic buys five or more. The mobile colposcope, or The EVA (Enhanced Visual Assessment), has already successfully screened over 16,000 women in 25+ countries.


Oncosec, a biotechnology company


Headquarters: San Diego, California

Founders: Punit Dhillo, Avtar Dhillon, M.D.

Categories: Biotechnology, cancer treatment

Oncosec is a biotechnology company that integrates big data and machine learning into radiation oncology. It is committed to developing new technologies “to stimulate the body’s immune system to target and attack cancer.”

Punit Dhillon, the CEO of Oncosec, states

OncoSec’s mission is to take the fight directly to the tumor and harness the power of the body’s immune system to recognize and attack cancer.

“Chemotherapy, although quite effective at earlier stages of cancer, does not cure people who have very advanced stage 4 lung or colon cancer”, says New York Times. According to Naomi Elster, PhD, the side-effects of chemo “arise because of what we pharmacologists call “off-target toxicity”, where drugs attack healthy cells as well as disease cells”. That is why Onosec, with the help of immunotherapy, aims to develop safer cancer treatment that would only target cancerous cells.

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