The OSUCCC - James to create digital archive of cancer pathology slides


When Mike Minshall was diagnosed with cancer, doctors told him he had two months to live. “It was absolutely devastating,” he said.

Then he got a second opinion from doctors at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). “They didn’t think my case was that bad and took a whole different approach to treating me,” said Minshall, 74, who has been cancer-free for a year.

An accurate, timely diagnosis is critical in every cancer patient’s treatment. The sooner a doctor has the information he or she needs, the sooner a patient can initiate the treatment process, or when necessary, seek out a second opinion.

Traditional pathology services — where tumor cells are placed on glass slides for examination under a microscope — make it difficult to share the cases for second review and rely on subjective methods of classifying cancer.

However, in April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved digital pathology for use in primary cancer diagnosis, opening the door for clinical pathology services to undergo important changes that will make it easier to share cases for expert review and utilize sophisticated quantitative algorithms to accurately stage and grade cancer.

Digital pathology is an image-based information platform enabled by computer technology and allows for improved management of information generated from a digital slide.

Also known as whole-slide imaging, digital pathology involves scanning conventional glass slides and then digitally knitting consecutive images into one image.

This virtual image is paired with clinical information to give pathologists an integrated picture of a person’s unique cancer. Pathologists can then perform additional diagnostics, including image analyses that are not possible on traditional glass slides.

Unlike conventional glass slides, these enhanced images can be viewed, manipulated and interpreted on a computer with the combined benefits of the pathologist’s trained eye and predictive algorithms.

The digital files are easier to store, share and access. But most importantly, the information they provide allows doctors to more quickly and accurately stage and grade specific types of cancer.

“These algorithms can separate certain features above and beyond what the human eye can see because the important features may actually be a combination of characteristics that indicates a specific diagnosis,” said Anil Parwani, MD, PhD, director of digital pathology and vice chair/director of anatomic pathology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine Department of Pathology. “Taken together, these features act almost like an image signature to help us make a prediction about a patient’s cancer. We can also use algorithms to do risk assessment.”

The OSUCCC – James is implementing a long-term digital pathology workflow solution, which is being provided by Inspirata Inc., for the cancer program as well as the overall health system. All new patient pathology slides will be digitized along with the past five years of pathology slides processed.

“Cancer pathologic diagnosis is needed at all hours of the day and in every community across the globe. This technology will allow us to take that subspecialized consultation and diagnosis to patients — regardless of where they live,” Parwani added.

In addition to improving pathology workflow and patient care implications, the OSUCCC – James effort will create a digital archive of pathology cases with associated clinical data for future research based on subsets of cancer.

Funds raised by Pelotonia, the grassroots cycling event that supports cancer research at the OSUCCC-James, will be used to help create this research archive and make it available to all cancer investigators.

“Leveraging this type of de-identified big data for research collaboration is critical as we move forward in an era of predictive precision cancer medicine,” said Michael Caligiuri, MD, director of the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center and CEO of The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. “Finding ways to match the right patient with the right drug at the right time is absolutely critical, and this is taking another step toward that goal.”

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