Pathologists have traditionally used microscopes to study tissue samples and help doctors pick the right diagnosis and chart the course of recovery. For the patient, pathology can make a difference between radical surgery and a more benign treatment. But for the pathologist, it can also be a real pain in the neck.
“Every time I reach for a new slide, I have to take my eyes off the lens and check the forms for that case,” Ian Cree, professor of pathology at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust in the UK, told GE Reports. “You can get a sore neck from hours at the microscope.”
Now dozens of European pathologists are about to get some relief. Labco Quality Diagnostics, a provider of pathology lab services on the continent, started building a digital network that will link more than 50 specialists and allow them to compare tissue samples and get second opinions with just a few clicks on their keyboards.
“Despite their critical role in analyzing cancer and other diseases, many pathologists work in an analogue world of glass slides and paper files,” says Mamar Gelaye, CEO of the medical technology firm, Omnyx, LLC. “Cancer is heterogeneous and complex, yet pathologists today have more computational resources available at home than in clinical practice.”
That’s why Omnyx, which is a joint venture between GE Healthcare and UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), developed what is essentially a digital microscope. The machines, which can be configured to form large networks, allow pathologists to view and share digitized, high-resolution images of human tissues on their computer screens from any location with an Internet connection.
That’s a big change on current practice, when doctors have to assess physical slides under a microscope, and put them inside an envelope and mail them for a second opinion. The process may result in delays, not to mention lost and damaged slides. “We are breaking away from the limitations of traditional methods of analyzing samples, aiming to offer faster, more skilled and more reliable diagnoses,” says Dr. José Antonio López Garca Asenjo, director of pathology diagnostics quality at Labco.
Dr. Cree says that digital pathology “puts everything directly on the screen in front of you, including the paperwork. Everything is linked and I can even collaborate with my colleagues without stepping out into the corridor. It’s much quicker and better for everyone, including the patient,” he says.
But Omnyx isn’t finished. The company is now focusing on software that could help pathologists analyze the digitized samples. “This could have huge benefits for patients,” Gelaye says. “New algorithms could assist with tumor grading and many other quantitative and qualitative tasks currently done by eye.”