Imagine getting a phone call in the middle of your study from a scientist who is seeing something completely unexpected in your study results. You need to make a decision on how to move forward and you need to do it quickly. You don’t have time to wait for a shipment of glass pathology slides. Now imagine being able to not only listen to them describe what they see, but actually see it for yourself and review it with them live.
“That’s one of the most powerful aspects of digital pathology,” explains Matt Renninger, Global Head of Pathology and Statistics at Labcorp. “It puts us shoulder-to-shoulder with the sponsor, looking at the same images in real time, making good decisions together.”
This level of collaboration is at the core of everything we do at Labcorp, and it’s why we’re investing an estimated $10 million into our digital pathology program. Our blueprint boasts 20 state-of-the-art systems installed across 14 global sites to create what just may be the world’s largest singular, globally-connected drug development digital pathology network.
1 single global network
14 networked sites
20+ digital scanners
125+ anatomic pathologists in our network
We saw the potential of digital pathology as early as 2007 and started investing in it immediately, even though the technology wasn’t quite there yet. Computer processing power wasn’t powerful enough to efficiently handle the data, and a user-friendly image management system still hadn’t been developed. As a result, customer interest was minimal, but that didn’t stop us from laying the groundwork for this important technology.
The global pandemic played a huge role in propelling digital pathology forward. As the world went into lockdown, sponsor pathologists couldn’t travel to our labs for peer reviews and the logistics of shipping glass slides back and forth became complex due to global COVID-related restrictions. Suddenly, digital pathology was shoved into the spotlight and we were ready to go digital with sponsors. As soon as our pathologists finished their review of a study, they could share it with the sponsor’s pathologist for an immediate peer review, saving weeks of shipping time and keeping studies on time despite the challenges of operating during a global pandemic.
Real-time collaboration and nearly instant data transfer are just the tip of the iceberg. The real promise of digital pathology is in the creation of a comprehensive image database that will enable powerful artificial intelligence applications. However, not just any digital pathology program is capable of these advanced applications. It requires a fairly sophisticated strategy to design and implement an impactful program.
“It’s a lot like a house,” explains Steve Van Adestine, Digital Imaging Services Manager and North America Lead at Labcorp. “You have to build a strong foundation first before you can move on to some of the more advanced technologies like artificial intelligence.”
One of the things that makes our digital pathology program unique for our customers is our commitment to building that strong foundation. Over the next year, we’re investing in the hardware, software, infrastructure and staff to build a singular, globally connected network that will enable our customers to begin to harness the insight potential provided by digital pathology.
The first important piece of this investment is the equipment used to scan the slides. We’re installing the Aperio GT 450™, the flagship digital pathology slide scanner from Leica Biosystems This groundbreaking scanning instrumentation integrates directly into our histology process. The slides are automatically digitized as part of the study itself as opposed to waiting for the study to be completed. It’s also incredibly fast – which means a lot to our customers and their development programs. We aren’t adding another step on top of old processes. And, we have Deciphex Patholytix for the image management system enabling digital slide transfer and peer review. We’re streamlining everything.
With this global network set to go live by the end of this year, we’re looking forward to exploring new artificial intelligence-based applications with our customers. “Right now, clients are getting the digital database they need to be able to run deep-learning applications to answer their own questions. In the future, they’ll able to have us answer those questions for them. That’s the roof of the house,” says Van Adestine. “We’re now able to contribute to a digital image database that takes customers from discovery all the way through clinical trial, so in the future a sponsor could essentially be able to digitally follow their own compound from the very beginning to the very end of the research process. I’m not aware of this being done anywhere else in the industry.”
“We’re now able to contribute to a digital image database that takes customers from discovery all the way through clinical trial, so in the future a sponsor could essentially be able to digitally follow their own compound from the very beginning to the very end of the research process. I’m not aware of this being done anywhere else in the industry.”
– Steve Van Adestine, Digital Imaging Services Manager and North America Lead
While many of the more exciting artificial intelligence applications are still down the road, we do have some tools we can already offer you today, such as quantitative analysis in addition to providing a qualitative analysis. “For example, we can measure the number of cells on a slide that express a specific protein to give you a more granular data set to evaluate,” shares Dan Weiser, Head of Global Special Pathology Services.
“We see the digital network we’ve built and the tools we’re starting to build as the foundation to completely transform how customers receive pathology evaluations in the future.”
– Matt Renninger, Global Head of Pathology and Statistics
“We see the digital network we’ve built and the tools we’re starting to build as the foundation to completely transform how customers receive pathology evaluations in the future,” explains Renninger. This is really just the beginning. Ultimately, our vision is to digitize the entire histology lab, including study-based communication, file storage and transfer, and artificial intelligence exercises. But it all starts with this important first step of digitizing every slide for customers and creating a globally connected image database.