Pathologists study tissue samples of disease taken from patients during surgery, or in the case of blood, during a procedure known as a bone marrow biopsy.
Hamilton Health Sciences pathologist Dr. Clinton Campbell envisions a future where pathologists work as information specialists in sophisticated computer labs with the world’s most current, relevant data at their fingertips The first steps toward this high-tech future are taking place at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) in a pilot project exploring digital pathology and artificial intelligence. It’s the only project of its kind in Canada, and could help modernize the way pathology is conducted around the world.
“Pathologists currently use an old-fashioned light microscope to view sections of human tissue, which is 300-year-old technology,” said Campbell, one of about 100 pathologists in Canada who specializes exclusively in blood disorders like leukemia. Campbell is leading an HHS study into digital pathology and AI. He is supported by Drs. Catherine Ross and Monalisa Sur for this pilot.
“The system we have currently works well,” said Campbell. “But we can’t share images of human tissues in real time with colleagues or do `virtual peer review’ where multiple pathologists can examine slides together at the same time.” Currently, when a pathologist at another hospital wants Campbell to view their slides and offer insights, the slides are shipped to him in thick cardboard folders.
“This is an inefficient process that leads to delays in diagnosis. Imagine how much better it would be if we could share these slides digitally in real time,” said Campbell. “It would allow for wider, faster consultation. And if you add AI into the mix, you’ve also got access to a vast amount of knowledge that’s sorted through machine learning to prioritize the very best information to help with your case.”
The TissueScope is a scanner that digitizes glass slides at microscopic resolution, allowing researchers and healthcare providers to more easily collaborate, accelerate research and unlock new tools such as those enabled by AI. HHS is conducting a one-year pilot project on digital pathology in partnership with Huron Digital Pathology in St. Jacobs.
HHS is using a scanner provided by Huron to collect and catalogue digital slide images. The project started in May and is based at HHS Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre. The goal is to collect 3,000 digital images from blood and bone marrow pathology slides..
While digital pathology is still several years away, Campbell said it’s definitely coming.
“Pathologists who learn to understand and use digital tools and AI will replace those who don’t,” he says. “It is clearly the way forward for the field of pathology, which is increasingly becoming a field of information specialists. And at the end of the day, it will lead to better patient care because of faster, more reliable and robust diagnoses.”