Uncovering Cancer

Digital pathology: science of tomorrow, fighting cancer today

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Human bodies, while capable of preeminent triumphs, do have their limits. To view what our eyes are not capable of seeing, lenses have been invented to see everything from the smallest cells and viruses to constellations far beyond our own. Mechanical levers reach for things that are out of our grasp, and pick up objects with superhuman strength.

Artificial hearts, ventilators, robotic surgery systems and other groundbreaking devices have made life possible where circumstances seemed to cast doubt. In the medical world, humans and machines can do great things together.

What's Next?
Steve Burnell, PhD, lifecycle leader for digital pathology and workflow for Ventana Medical Systems, Inc. (Ventana), believes that digital pathology represents "another great achievement."

"Digital pathology brings greater workflow efficiency, dramatically enhanced physician communication and case data management, and improved patient safety to laboratories around the globe," said Burnell. "Digital pathology is an enabler of the future of pathology but also the broader future of oncology and personalized medicine," Burnell added. "It provides laboratories an opportunity to differentiate, to demonstrate innovation and efficiency, and to show leadership in delivering the latest advancements in patient care."

When patients first receive a cancer diagnosis, they are understandably devastated and confused, explained Burnell. And when faced with a potentially overwhelming disease, patients might want more than one care provider to weigh in on their situation.

Burnell says advances in digital pathology software have made rural-to-city, cross-country or even international consultations a reality. "There are hundreds of different types of cancer and only a limited number of experts in many of them," said Burnell. "In one of its most widely used applications, digital pathology allows doctors either locally or remotely to collaborate online with other specialty pathologists in real time using tele-pathology with scanned slide images to help determine the correct diagnosis and best treatment options for patients."

Updated Software Saves Time 
Burnell pointed to the company's newest Virtuoso 5.4 image and workflow management software, billed as faster than predecessors.

"A new 'one-click' workflow for image analysis reduces the number of actions necessary to analyze a patient's tissue sample," Burnell noted. "The new software substantially cuts the time it takes to load and display the first slide image in a case, to switch between slide images and to manipulate images. Most importantly, it offers an augmented view of a tumor and performs complex computer analyses that aid the physician in the determination of the specific drivers of a cancer -- critical in determining the optimal treatment."

Whether it's a sharper digital image or faster software analysis programs, every advantage technology gives us in the fight against cancer is a small victory. The growth of digital pathology paves the way for innovations yet to be created by companies like Ventana. However, a laboratory must be willing to explore this champion of the future. "Laboratories and pathologists who  want a comprehensive image acquisition analysis and reporting solution that delivers greater operational efficiencies, improved patient care and a platform for the future of multi-plexed assays and personalized medicine should definitely consider this technology ," concluded Burnell.

Scott Hunt is a former ADVANCE intern.

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