Driving advances in cancer diagnostics

First digital pathology centre of excellence opens in the UK

Last month, the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust was named the first Centre of Excellence in Digital Pathology in the UK.

We are at the forefront of a new era of digital pathology which has the power to transform how we share and collaborate as an industry and provide patients with the peace of mind that they are getting access to the best expertise around the world

The centre will focus on discovering new ways to use digitisation during the diagnostic process, from how a pathology lab is set up to the computer-assisted algorithms used during this time.

One year ago, the trust, in conjunction with Coventry and Warwickshire Pathology Services, became the first in the UK to use a suite of technology that digitises slides of tissues for clinical diagnosis. Having this new technology helps pathologists view digitised images of human tissue in high resolution on their computer screens from any location instead of being reliant on the physical slides.

“We are at the forefront of a new era of digital pathology which has the power to transform how we share and collaborate as an industry and provide patients with the peace of mind that they are getting access to the best expertise around the world,” said Olivier Croly, European healthcare It general manager for GE, which is helping provide the digital solutions.

“But it’s going to take several visionaries around the world to demonstrate the true value of digital pathology for the field, the hospital and, most importantly, the patient. One group of visionaries are the people at the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire.”

Because the trust uses the Omnyx Integrated Digital Pathology system, pathologists can take advantage of the digital scanners, a knowledge-driven software platform, and being fully integrated into the cancer care team – all to help pathologists provide more individualised therapies for patients.

The role of the pathologist operating in a digital age is set to become ever more vital in the global battle against cancer

After a patient’s tissue is processed on a glass slide, this system digitises the images and indexes them onto the pathology computer system. Those slide images can then be accessed securely by the pathologist from any location, and shared virtually to get second or third consultations from colleagues in other sites, or even other countries.

Studies have shown that seeking a second opinion or collaborating with the care team has the potential to improve the diagnosis and treatment plan in nearly one in 10 patients. Another recent academic study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that pathologic interpretation of breast biopsies is inadequately understood, including between the pathologist and the care team.

There is a need to bring the pathologist into the care team to increase collaboration and communication when diagnosing a patient’s case.

”This is precisely what technology within Omnyx is designed to do,” said Croly.

“Bringing the slides into a digital space enables pathologists to consult with other experts virtually. We have the opportunity to tap into the explosion of knowledge and data which in order to be effective, it needs to be synthesised and organized in a way that makes the review process as objective as possible.”

A rising challenge

Cancer cases are expected to rise by an estimated 70% in the next two decades against a backdrop of soaring healthcare costs and a shrinking clinical workforce. Statistics also suggest that a 10% error rate of misdiagnoses in pathology is not uncommon, which currently leads to an estimated 1.41 million cancer cases being misdiagnosed.

Healthcare providers must therefore find new ways to help patients tackle cancer head-on. One of the roles of the Centre of Excellence will be to work with its partners and share information in order to discover new ways to use digitisation as part of the diagnosis process.

This, in turn, may improve greater clarity in the diagnostic accuracy and the quality of treatment that is being offered, bringing direct benefits to patients in terms of better outcomes.

“If we can gain a better understanding of the individual properties of tumours when they are first identified and diagnosed, we may have a better chance of applying more personalised therapies to treat them,” said Croly.

“So, the role of the pathologist operating in a digital age is set to become ever more vital in the global battle against cancer.”

Companies