The idea of observing and qualitatively assessing diseased tissue has been around for hundreds of years. Until recently, this meant a pathologist undertaking laborious manual assessment of physical glass slides using a light microscope. Now, recent technology advances enable the glass slides to be scanned to create high-resolution digital images which importantly support remote access and greater connectivity with others, creating a shift towards assessment via telepathology. This examination of computerized images is called digital pathology and it aids the user in manually annotating regions of interest. Other computational advances in the field of pathology include the implementation of deep learning algorithms to assist the automated assessment of pathological features.
There is a widespread appreciation for the importance of physically looking at tissues sampled from the clinic to inform decision-making, with pathological assessment forming a key component of multidisciplinary meetings regarding the management and treatment of a patient. The move towards digital and computational pathology has made remote reporting possible, meaning that experts from around the world can offer second opinions on specifically annotated regions – see Dr Maurice Loughrey’s testimony as he firsthand gauges the impact of implementing this approach in his practice.
The shift towards digital pathology has significantly increased the opportunities for implementation of modern approaches to assess tissue and analyse biomarkers/risk stratifiers for disease which in turn can lead to a diagnosis that is much more accurate resulting in adequate personalized care for the patient. The introduction of digital scanning facilities in hospital pathology departments means biomedical scientists working in the pathology laboratory are no longer just processing samples and preparing glass slides but rather they are the key people involved in utilizing state-of-the-art equipment and facilitating the application of novel computer algorithms to support innovation in healthcare.
Digital pathology has also enabled huge forward strides to be made in the research setting. Previously research scientists who lacked access to expensive and technically challenging equipment to study tissues in a traditional manner can now download and analyse high-resolution digital histopathological images for their work, additionally, there are growing numbers of freely available open-source digital image analysis platforms that can be used to access images on a standard PC. The accessibility of digital pathology within the research setting, particularly where a pathologist is not always readily available, has allowed the reproducible assessment of tissue via predefined algorithms and workflows, making it consistent, reliable, and readily available to researchers and clinicians alike.
Within the Centre
Digital images for research can be made available through the Northern Ireland Biobank, the Precision Medicine Centre, and the Pathology core unit, the latter facility is appropriately regulated to enable animal tissue to be prepared for slide scanning and digital image analysis.
For further detail on how digital pathology approaches are applied and developed at the PGJCCR, please see the highlights of our Centre’s research under Meet the Experts.
Chief Editor: Dr Cristina Branco
Guest Editor/Expert Content: Dr Stephanie Craig & Natalie Fisher
Publication Design: Kiera McGill