posted by Jeff Yastine, Senior Correspondent at 5:47 PM on 07/10/08
When I first started researching tonight’s story on "digital pathology" with my colleague Tess Paterekas, the first question I thought of was — you hook up a digital camera to a pathologist’s microscope, and you get "digital pathology." What’s the big deal? Of course, the big deal is that a pathologist needs to zoom in and look at very small details on a microscope slide. Have you ever tried zooming in to the tiniest elements on a digital family photograph? What happens? The resolution degrades and all the details in the picture disappear.
There are actually two major technological challenges in "digital pathology." One is getting enough detail. To examine just one microscope slide you need to render and store what amounts to 20 or 30 gigabytes of memory. The second challenge centers on the speed of the scanning process. In years past, the scan took many minutes to complete. If a hospital pathology lab is cranking out dozens and even hundreds of slides every day and each slide takes minutes and minutes to digitally scan, the idea of "digital pathology" seems highly impractical. Today, both these challenges have been mainly overcome. And, the systems that make digital pathology possible are now available at a cost more hospitals can afford.
The industry leader in digital pathology is a California-based company named Aperio. Company representatives told me that we’re still in the earliest phases of a revolutionary change in pathology. What’s on the horizon? Computers and algorhythmic software that actually “read” the slides, looking for multiple "bio-markers." This advancement will automate — and further speed up — the diagnosis process.