Digital Microscope Is "Game Changer"

Jun 5, 2017

U.S. doctors are slowly turning to digital pathology to more accurately diagnose and treat cancer.

In April 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved digital microscopes for use in primary cancer diagnosis. This is the process of scanning conventional glass slides to create a virtual image. That image can be easily transferred anyplace in the world for a second opinion. Complete with a computer algorithm, the machine can also see patterns a pathologist may not be able to pick out.

Ohio State's Associate Director of Neuropathology Jose Otero says what's really exciting is this technology brings objectivity.

He says, "So for example, there are some drugs if you express a particular marker (biomarker) and the majority of tumor cells would be a trigger for an oncologist to treat. This is much more accurately done by a software algorithm on a digitized image than it is a human being eyeballing and saying it looks like about 60 percent of the cells are positive."

The digital microscope scans glass slides to make a virtual image. That is paired with associated clinical information to give doctors an integrated picture of the person's unique cancer. After that pathologists can then perform additional diagnostics, including tests that aren't possible on traditional glass slides.

Ohio State's Director of Digital Pathology Anil Parwani  says the technology has been in use for a couple of years now in the Netherlands, Europe and Singapore.

"Once this initial phase of making glass slides is over and we have these machines widely developed, we will exchange images as a standard way of exchanging patient pathology data. Right now it's very manual and very cumbersome," according to Parwani.

Statistics show there are nearly two million cancer diagnoses every year in the U.S. but many people are misdiagnosed. Doctors hope this new technology will help reduce the number of false positives.