The Picture of…Cancer?

BEAR LAKE – After getting a degree in forestry, joining the marines, being recruited by the CIA, even working on calculating the environmental impact of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, what was left for Alfred "Jay" Johnson?

Oh, maybe developing a tool for diagnosing cancer or osteoporosis. Johnson says he's done just that and believes his unique imaging process has the potential to shake up the health care industry by enabling doctors to more effectively diagnose cancer cells. He envisions the process as a tool primarily for breast cancer, but with possible application to other cancers, osteoporosis, and even other industries.

The Bear Lake resident delved into health technology after facing his own share of health problems. He says it was during his recovery that he decided to put his skills to work for the health care industry.

"I had a couple heart attacks, a stroke, quadruple bypass. I thought, maybe I can do something to help the medical folks," Johnson says.

That zeal put him on the road to using his unique set of skills for detection of cancers that other imaging techniques could not. In layman's terms, he's essentially developed a method for colorizing scans. The colors correspond with varying tissue/ material densities, revealing the presence and extent of cancerous cells and infections, and/or fluid substances found in an abscess. Johnson says the method can detect abnormalities as small as .02 inches.

Still, how did Johnson get from Point A to what for all the world looks like at least Point E, if not Point Z?

"Leaps of faith," he says with a laugh.

Beyond that, though, his background in imaging made this application less a stretch than an obvious extension. Initially he used imagery in forestry to measure timber areas. After he joined the marines imagery became a tool for reconnaissance. Recruited into the CIA, he began developing imaging techniques, including utilizing them for looking at Russian grain in light of the nuclear disaster at Cherynobyl. "No one else in the world was doing that," he says. "We could tell better what their wheat result was than they could. Their reporting system was pretty crummy."

In 1998, when he began suffering his own health problems, he left the CIA. He returned to his Bear Lake home, and while continuing to work through his own challenges, he began experimenting with ways in which to apply his advanced imaging skills to the medical field.

Johnson has dubbed the process he's using as SCHEIP (Spectral Color Highly Enhanced Image Product). He says the SCHEIP process enhances the gray scale portions in color and highlights desired features, unlike other processes, which he compares to using a coloring book and a box of crayons.

"There's not many people with this background, to be able to apply principles from (these) four different sciences," Johnson says. The four: standard visual imagery analysis, color multispectral imagery analysis, environmental change detection analysis, and algorithm development science.

He is optimistic that the medical field will eventually embrace and utilize these techniques, not only in battling breast cancer (his current focus), but in other cancers as well. He also sees the techniques as invaluable in the detection and monitoring of osteoporosis, and possibly the detection and monitoring of plaque in heart and arteries as well.

He claims SCHEIP also shows promise as a substitute for MRIs, detection and analysis of broken bones, and for use by veterinarians and dentists as well. He says he also forsees commercial applications in the field of industry, art and historical artifacts – even security checks of baggage and shipping containers.

Sound too good to be true? Johnson himself admits his claims might not be easy for the established medical field to swallow, but he hopes it'll at least try a taste.

"This is so far out of the box, many people don't want to touch it with a 10-foot pole," he says. "I've contacted the Cancer Centers of America, who say they are not an experimental facility." When he went to the parent company, General Electric, he got the same response.

But he remains undaunted, and hopeful. "To get better acceptance, I've got to get investors and demo examples," he says.

Until then, small triumphs will do. Johnson is currently working under a provisional patent; he expects to receive his final official patent within the next 90 days. BN