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Inside the Lab Digital and computational pathology, Microscopy and imaging, Training and education

A Receptive Field

I have always thought of pathology as a visual discipline. How could it not be when so many diagnoses depend on a subtle shift of color in a slide, or on a few too many cells in a visual field, or on the appearance of a microscopic pathogen in otherwise normal-looking tissue?

But it seems I may have underestimated the field. Although the visual aspect is certainly key – after all, our upcoming gallery feature clearly showcases that pathology really is about “the picture of health” – laboratory medicine professionals can accomplish a great deal without ever coming near an image.

Take last issue’s focus on podcasts, for instance (1). How can so many skilled laboratory professionals convey so much about their discipline without ever actually showing it – and how has an audio-only medium become not only popular, but a valuable educational tool in pathology?

Or consider digital and computational pathology. Despite the emphasis on images, it’s clear that a computer can’t actually “see” anything – and that all of its information comes from 0s and 1s in the ether. Yet, far from being a limitation, this focus on data actually allows algorithms to make distinctions so slight that they are invisible to the human eye.

In a world where artificial intelligences increasingly take the reins and education often takes place at a distance, is visual learning giving way to new approaches? I don’t think so – but it’s clear that even images need to keep up with the times. Students who may once have learned to gross in person may now learn from video tutorials (2) – and, in a few years, may learn via augmented or virtual reality (3). Textbooks that may once have showcased careful drawings of slides and cells now contain glossy full-page photographs; the CDs once included in your textbook purchase have been replaced by software codes that lead you to interactive websites offering an enhanced educational experience. Our pictures move; we can zoom in and out, annotate, and manipulate them. We can overlay them onto real backgrounds and interact with them as though they were real.

The future of pathology is indeed visual – and digital – and so much more.

Where do you think the discipline is headed next? Drop us a line – [email protected] – to have your say!

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  1. M Schubert, “Have You Heard?,” The Pathologist (2021). Available at: https://bit.ly/3fgUmba.
  2. M Schubert, “Learn to Gross,” The Pathologist (2021). Available at: https://bit.ly/3coX2Sg.
  3. M Schubert, “Augmented Reality for the Lab,” The Pathologist (2020). Available at: https://bit.ly/30YWYC0.
About the Author
Michael Schubert

While obtaining degrees in biology from the University of Alberta and biochemistry from Penn State College of Medicine, I worked as a freelance science and medical writer. I was able to hone my skills in research, presentation and scientific writing by assembling grants and journal articles, speaking at international conferences, and consulting on topics ranging from medical education to comic book science. As much as I’ve enjoyed designing new bacteria and plausible superheroes, though, I’m more pleased than ever to be at Texere, using my writing and editing skills to create great content for a professional audience.

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