GE Healthcare collaboration targets digital pathology
PITTSBURGH—A newly expanded strategic collaboration between two affiliates of GE Healthcare aims to bring cancer pathology into the digital age. At a time when digital technologies are quickly reshaping many areas of medicine, pathologists still rely heavily on microscopes and glass slides when sharing information and making diagnoses. Omnyx is a digital pathology joint venture in which GE is involved, and Clarient Diagnostic Services is GE’s diagnostic laboratory services company, and both are hoping to put digital tools in the hands of pathologists as they expand an ongoing partnership.
“This is one of the last standing bastions of non-digitized healthcare,” Mamar Gelaye, CEO of Omnyx, tells DDNews. “The need for pathology to achieve the same level of computational support as other practices of medicine is great and wide-reaching.”
The newly expanded collaboration is centered on the integration of Omnyx’s proprietary software platform into Clarient’s laboratory. The platform will provide pathologists in Clarient’s network with access to imaging tools and computer-aided diagnostic resources that can help them gain insights that may lead to more individualized cancer therapies.
“What we have in this collaboration is an opportunity to hone a platform that could uplift standards of pathology, network skilled pathologists with those who are gaining skills and increase accuracy and efficiency in diagnosis,” says Gelaye.
Currently, there are no digital pathology platforms that have received FDA approval for use in primary diagnosis. However, some digital pathology technologies have received regulatory approval for primary diagnosis in other countries, and some have received FDA approval for limited clinical uses in the United States. Omnyx’s products are currently for in-vitro diagnostic use for specific clinical applications and are intended for research use only when used with other applications.
Advocates of digital pathology say that one of its primary advantages is the potential to reduce instances of misdiagnosis. Studies show that misdiagnoses of cancer are remarkably common, and the World Health Organization predicts that 1.41 million misdiagnoses will occur over the next two decades. Research shows that misdiagnoses are much less common when pathologists and others involved in caring for patients collaborate, allowing for a second opinion to emerge. A study in the journal Cancer suggested that such collaboration has the potential to improve diagnosis and treatment for nearly one in 10 patients.
“The clinical reality is that fighting cancer begins with an accurate diagnosis,” according to Kenneth J. Bloom, chief medical officer of Clarient. “Cancer diagnosis and treatment is most effective as it becomes more personalized, and that means the role of the pathologist is crucial.”
Digital pathology tools may prove most valuable in environments with limited pathology resources, such as rural hospitals and in developing nations. The ability to share digitized slides could make it easier, quicker and less costly for patients to receive second opinions from sub-specialists.
“By teaming up with Omnyx, we are helping to ensure that regardless of location or the size of the pathology lab in your hospital, a pathologist has a network that can discuss and help them identify the characteristics of a tumor, and offer more personalized diagnoses and treatments,” Bloom noted in a news release about the work.
Gelaye stresses that two trends that will pose challenges for the field of pathology in the years ahead make it particularly important to pursue the potential of digital pathology. One is an expected surge in cancer diagnosis work itself—the World Health Organization estimates that cancer diagnosis will grow 70 percent over the next two decades. The other is an increasingly large workload placed on a relatively small number of skilled pathologists.
“We are facing increases in the volume and complexity of disease at the same time that the diagnostic resources are being stressed,” Gelaye notes. “We can’t graduate enough pathologists at an expert level fast enough to contend with this.”
A greater reliance on digital pathology could help mitigate these problems by making it easier for highly skilled pathologists to share knowledge with less-experienced peers. Digital solutions could also reduce the amount of time pathologists spend on administrative tasks such as gathering and inputting data. Ultimately, says Gelaye, Omnyx hopes to develop platforms that allow pathologists to focus their expertise on the areas where it is most needed.
“As pathologists take on greater workloads, the emerging field of digital pathology allows them to review cases jointly, more quickly and more accurately thanks to collaborative input from peers across the globe,” says Gelaye. “Our Clarient and Omnyx alliance will provide pathologists with state-of-the art testing and diagnostic services to bring digital solutions as a mainstream offering in the healthcare world.”