GE Healthcare has profiled efforts it is making to change the way in which pathology imaging is conducted across the globe. The opportunities, should its technology gain acceptance, looks set to deliver the final blow to an analog-based procedure for looking at images that has largely remained unchanged over the past 120 years.
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
Onyx is a 50:50 digital pathology joint venture set up in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and GE. The business has chosen Canada as the location for its first Global Pathology Imaging Centre of Excellence (PICOE), located in the MaRS Excite campus in Toronto.
The JV is investing C$7.75 million in the health technology program, which is also backed by a C$2.25 million contribution from the Healthcare Technology Exchange (HTX). It is hoped that further collaborative R&D partnerships in the area will boost the over research figure by an additional C$7.2 million over the next three years.
In some ways, Canada represents an ideal territory to test the benefits of digital pathology, mainly due to the sheer scale of the country and low population dispersion. The digitization of pathology opens up the potential for remote medical centers to send contentious images fast and directly to regional centers and right into the lap of experienced pathologists.
The process would not only increase the number of images processed by pathologists, but it also comes as the healthcare environment suffers from a shortage of pathologists that have limited the capacity to get the most out of the resources available. GE believes that Canada has the level of awareness and political will to do something to fix the problem.
The large regionalized healthcare system also lends itself to the Omnyx model, along with the clinical knowhow, and the number of trained clinicians able to support the rapid introduction of such advanced technology.
Buoyed by an “ideal collaborative framework”, PICOE has government support, institutional backing community, including some of the biggest universities in Canada, as well as potential clinical partners such as the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and hospitals.
PICO is not just about developing new technology, but investigating how to take the system and deploy it across a nationwide, regionalized healthcare environment. The company says it benefits from the collaboration as it can apply this technology and methodology to other global healthcare markets.
Whilst PICOE is currently a research-use only tool that GE hopes will convince pathologists to ditch the old, cumbersome method and embrace a new form of working that will meet the challenges of modern pathology.
As with all technologies that require a change in working techniques, it’s not a straightforward task that will be adopted overnight. However, the combination of innovative research and the influence of such a large business in GE Healthcare could give PICOE a toe-hold in an industry that needs to be dragged kicking into the modern age.
The patent-pending Omnyx Integrated Digital Pathology (IDP) system includes whole slide scanners, pathologists and histology workstations and an integrated software platform that aims to deliver the scale and reliability for demanding pathology departments.
The combination of a workflow server and digital archive combine to offer benefits such as real-time image access from anywhere; the ability to automatically retrieve case information for individuals; image storage and retrieval; and, most notably, low entry cost and scalability.
The University Health Network is the first site to participate in the PICOE program and will conduct both beta and clinical testing for primary diagnostics. It will also help to formulate guidelines and best practices for model pathology.
As of November 2011, UHN had scanned and reviewed over 2,000 slides as part of its testing activities. This testing process started with five pathologists but within seven weeks had been expanded to 22 pathologists from nine specialty areas. A total of six Omnyx VL4 scanners, forming part of the DIP package, have so been shipped to beta customers worldwide.
At its core, the PICOE approach represents a “holistic” approach to pathology imaging, including scanners, servers, healthcare information systems, and workstations, to provide a means of getting information out to the virtual community. GE will act as the exclusive distributor for Omnyx and provides the implementation, training, and support for the Omnyx Integrated Digital Pathology system.