A new device developed by three Yale undergraduates could replace the magnifying glass as the primary melanoma detection tool in dermatology offices across the country.

Elizabeth Asai ’13, Nick Demas ’13 and Elliot Swart ’13 have developed a portal USB-driven machine called the Stereoscopic Plug-and-Play Dermatoscope and Web Interface, which takes three-dimensional photographs of suspicious moles on the surface of the skin that enable dermatologists to better determine whether they are malignant. This summer the team won two awards for this device: a second-place $100,000 Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology Prize for Primary Healthcare in July, and third place in the IEEE-EMBS (Institute of Electrical Engineers Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society) Wyss Award for Translational Research, a $1,000 prize, Aug. 31.

Members of the Yale medical community said the device offers promising opportunities for use in a medical setting.

“The Dermatoscope is a main improvement in dermatology, which enables patients to follow concerning lesions at home and provide feedback directly to the office which, in turn, enables us to intervene earlier if necessary,” said Keith Choate MED ’04, who helped the team with their clinical research. “It gives me a little bit more certainty that we are providing the best care possible.”

The device is a small, low-cost camera that can be used by a doctor or patient to take photos of lesions that can then be uploaded to a Web-based directory. Doctors can remotely view patients’ images from this database and analyze the moles and lesions from all angles.

The project gained attention at the August CIMIT Prize presentation, in which competition was fierce. The Yale team were the only undergraduates to win an award, with first- and third-place prizes going to doctoral candidates.

Ronald Newbower, the strategic director for CIMIT, said that the program aims to attract bioengineering students to the field of primary healthcare. He added that the judges prefer students who collaborate with clinicians to address real primary health care needs in their projects.

Asai, Demas and Swart, who met as freshmen in Morse College, said the idea for the melanoma-detection device came from a late-night conversation about the CIMIT competition and possible submission ideas.

“Our project was completely independent of Yale coursework and most of the product development was done in our dorm rooms,” Asai, a biomedical engineering major, said. “We spent about 30 hours a week during the school year and then worked 15 hours every, yes, every, single day for three weeks until the submission deadline [on May 31].”

Nevertheless, the innovators said that their Yale engineering classes were crucial to the process of developing the device.

“John Morrell’s mechatronics class taught me both the practical circuit design and MATLAB skill necessary to complete this project, which I then taught to the rest of my team,” electrical engineering and computer science major Swart said.

As a result of the CIMIT prize, the team has been awarded a provisional one-year patent for their device, which stops other innovators from replicating their ideas. Asai said that they plan in the next year to form a business together that will eventually market and commercially produce the device to dermatology practices.

Newbower said that he has high hopes for the future of the team’s device.

“It is really impressive for undergraduates to win this prize. The CIMIT prize has been given to graduate students for three years with only one exception until this year,” Newbower said. “Yale students won such an important prize. Yale should be proud of their undergraduates.”

CIMIT is a multi-institutional organization in Boston committed to bringing physicians, scientists, and engineers together to work on the development of medical devices.