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Diagnostics Blog


What do you know about Digital Pathology?

Aug 29 2012

A few weeks ago we looked at diagnostic innovation for Testing Tuesday. This generated a lot of interest. In particular people were asking us questions about digital pathology. Because of this, we decided to dedicate a week to this innovative area of pathology. Kindly, The Digital Pathology Association in the US and Philips have worked with BIVDA to provide you with more information about the exciting digital changes to the field of pathology.

What is digital pathology?

Digital pathology involves dynamic, image-based technologies, which enable the acquisition, management and interpretation of pathology information generated from a digitized glass slide.

Applications in a healthcare environment include primary diagnosis, diagnostic consultation, intra-operative diagnosis, training, manual and semi-quantitative review of immunohistochemistry (IHC), clinical research, diagnostic decision support, peer review, and tumor boards.

Life Science applications include high throughput scanning of glass slides, quantitative analysis of whole slide images, immediate web based consultations with expert pathologists, and secure archival of pathology data.

Digital pathology is rapidly gaining momentum as a proven and essential technology; with specific support for education, tissue based research, drug development, and the practice of human pathology throughout the world.  It is an innovation committed to the reduction of laboratory expenses, an improvement of operational efficiency, enhanced productivity, and improving treatment decisions and patient care.

To see digital pathology in action, watch this video watch this video

What can digital pathology do?

Pathologists are well positioned to lead clinical research; specifically for the discovery of new medicines and patient treatments.  In addition to advancing the healthcare applications listed above, digital pathology aides in these by providing innovative tools to create high quality whole slide images of glass slides.  The whole slide images are then used to identify, quantify, and document key characteristics, reactions, or responses within a specific set of tissue samples.  The research data captured may then be used to track the response of a treatment, disease progression, or of an outcome in patients.

Emerging alongside digital pathology, and linked to its capacity to aid research, is the clinical sub-specialty of Pathology Informatics. Already established in the United States, Pathology Informatics involves collecting, examining, reporting, and storing large complex sets of data derived from tests performed in clinical laboratories, anatomic pathology laboratories, or research laboratories to improve patient care and enhance the understanding of disease-related processes.

Pathology Informaticians seek to continuously improve existing laboratory information technology and enhance the value of existing laboratory test data, and develop computational algorithms and models aimed at deriving clinical value from new data sources. The data sets used in pathology informatics include clinical tests, anatomic pathology reports, image files, telepathology (telehealth) data, and large scale experiments including gene, proteomic and tissue array studies. Collecting and analyzing data can help pathologists to understand the causes, progression and treatment of many diseases.

Read more about Pathology Informatics in the United States here 

“Let the pathologist do the pattern recognition but computers are definitely better at counting! A new generation of digital pathology network solutions is providing highly productive imaging solutions,  removing the old  scan time and viewing bottleneck.A reduction in travel time alone might justify the purchase  but  the developing hub and spoke models for pathology in the UK would benefit from the ability to connect the image to the pathologist anywhere in the network.”  - Glyn Colebrooke, VP Europe at Philips Digital Pathology

Who is using digital pathology?

Erasmus MC is the first hospital in the Netherlands to switch to digital for their experimental laboratory analysis of cell and tissue samples using a digital pathology system from Philips. This switch to digital is an important step in tumor research and ultimately aims to speed up and improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other diseases. Erasmus MC is working with Philips, which has developed a completely new, very fast technology for scanning, image processing and analysis that makes it possible to obtain digital images of suspect tissue at very high resolution. This enables medical researchers to view the images efficiently from any given workplace and to gain new insight into diseases such as cancer.


If cancer is suspected in a patient, tissue is removed surgically or by means of a biopsy. The tissue is then examined by a pathologist at microscopic level and sometimes also tested at molecular level. This makes it possible to ascertain whether or not the tissue is cancerous and, if so, to what extent the cancer is malignant. This process also plays a very important role in the analysis of large numbers of test samples for experimental cancer research in order to gain a better understanding of the causes and mechanisms of diseases at cellular and molecular level. These new insights may enable new diagnostic approaches and therapeutic treatments.

The analysis of small tissue samples can create quite a problem in medical investigations. A great deal of time and effort is spent sending, recording and processing the hundreds of microscope slides of tissue samples. Consultation with a colleague at another location can be a lengthy process, as the tissue slide first has to be sent over by courier, with the added risk of damage or loss.


By scanning the tissue slide using the very fast Philips digital pathology system, the examining pathologist can gain direct access to the digital files and the work can be distributed more effectively among the available researchers. Cancer cells in the tissue can be identified and analyzed quickly using advanced image analysis software. It also becomes easy to share information and images with cancer research institutes all over the world.

"In recent years the demand for cell and tissue examination has risen enormously with more complex cases," says Peter Riegman PhD, Head of the Erasmus MC Tissue Bank. "The changeover in the future to digital pathology will help our team of pathologists, biomedical researchers, technical specialists as well as the management team to ensure we maintain our high standard and further speed up experimental medical research."

"For over a hundred years now pathologists have used an optical microscope to examine the stained tissue on a microscope slide," says Perry van Rijsingen, General Manager of Philips Digital Pathology. "By integrating digital pathology in the existing information system at the research laboratory, Erasmus MC now has at its disposal a digital platform that offers new opportunities for intensive cooperation in education and research with other disciplines such as radiology."

The Philips system for digital pathology consists of an ultra-fast scanner and image management system with software for viewing, analyzing and interpreting the images. At Erasmus MC the changeover from analog to digital will be made first in experimental research and pathology education, and this may well be followed by digital diagnostics in the coming years.

For further information, please contact:

Digital Pathology Association
10293 North Meridian Streeet Suite 175
Indianapolis, Indiana 46290
Phone 317-816-1630
Toll-free 877-824-4085
Fax 317-816-1633
Email info@digitalpathologyassociation.org

Erasmus MC
Tel +31 10 703 3289
Email: press@erasmusmc.nl

Philips Digital Pathology
Hans Driessen
Mobile + 31 610610417
E-mail: hans.driessen@philips.com