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Inside the Lab Digital and computational pathology, Laboratory management, Technology and innovation

The Global Digital Pathology Task Force

This article is adapted from a webinar with Leica Biosystems, featuring Catarina Eloy (Head of the Pathology Laboratory, Institute of Molecular Pathology and Immunology of the University of Porto), Junya Fukuoka (Chair, Professor, Nagasaki University, Japan), Anil Parwani (Professor of Pathology and Biomedical Informatics, The Ohio State University), and Colin White (Senior Vice President and General Manager, Advanced Staining & Imaging, Leica Biosystems).

Please click here to view the on-demand panel discussion: “The Future of Digital Pathology and AI: Insights from the Global Task Force Leaders.”

Leaders of the digital pathology associations in Europe (ESDIP), United States (DPA) and Japan (JSDP) have joined forces to accelerate the adoption of digital pathology – and now, they’re introducing this Global Task Force to the world. Hosted by Colin White, Leica Biosystems’ SVP and General Manager for Advanced Staining and Imaging, three expert pathologists and leaders of their respective societies share their thoughts as to how this alliance aims to boost the exchange of knowledge across borders, unify concepts and standardization, and help break down political, social, and economic barriers to  digitization.

The primary goals of the Global Task Force, as explained by Catarina Eloy, are to speed up digital pathology adoption and to assist labs in moving in a digital direction. “When I finished the digital transformation of the lab in which I worked in 2020, I realized that I needed to help all my pathologist colleagues undergo that same transformation.” Digital pathology is not going away – and, to support labs in starting the transition sooner rather than later, Eloy began to reach out to other organizations, encouraging labs in different countries and on different continents to build networks for a digital future.

Junya Fukuoka highlighted the importance of building global connections, especially in places like Asia, where many technological innovations are in development. He encourages international practitioners to join the Global Task Force, which offers an inclusive support network that can easily close the gap between countries with differing levels of digitization and help those countries collaborate.

Zooming in on execution, Anil Parwani spoke of how the group is achieving its goals on a practical level. “We’ve launched a webinar series and an educational event where repositories of slide images are available. The goal is to make these resources available globally and [for the United States] to partner with Europe and Japan to achieve the common goals of the Global Task Force.”

Digital pathology implementation has historically been stymied by issues such as regulation, connectivity with laboratory information systems, and overall cost. Though many of these barriers have been overcome through advances in infrastructure, cost reduction, and cloud computing, pathologists’ hesitancy toward the digital transformation remains widespread. The difficulty, Eloy said, lies in how pathologists perceive the lab. To Eloy, many have a traditionalist view of lab processes, which engenders a resistance to change. 

Fukuoka offered a solution for these anxieties – make digital pathology education abundant. Once technicians fully understand how new processes can make their jobs easier, they will be more receptive to change. Conferences can be a great tool for this, because technicians can get hands-on experience with the technology, see how it can improve their workflows, and network with others who have access to it. “You don’t need to buy a scanner,” said Fukuoka. “You just ask somebody who has a scanner to help you out.”

Not every laboratory needs cutting-edge tech immediately. In fact, it’s best to start small so that pathologists and laboratory medicine professionals can develop a digital workflow incrementally. This approach has seen organizations implement digital pathology much further than they initially planned. Parwani detailed how, in his own workplace, after low initial interest, appreciation quickly spread through word of mouth. Colleagues were suddenly more receptive once they had seen the results firsthand. “If you build something good and you demonstrate to people that it’s going to solve a gap in their current sectors, I guarantee you that they will use it.”

Widespread digitization requires us to kill skepticism – and quality is the way to deliver the final blow. If pathologists are shown that it’s possible for them to produce perfect slides, they will be less likely to want a return to previous methods. Sharing knowledge is also key and can be supercharged with annotation tools that communicate pathologists’ findings clearly and succinctly. Moreover, file sharing can expedite the diagnostic process, allowing pathologists to search through thousands of cases on a shared drive – a worthy benefit for all parties.

This move toward digital pathology also advances another goal – preparing for the increase of artificial intelligence (AI). When asked about AI’s promise, Parwani stated that it was much less of a “promise” and more of a reality. Digital pathology and AI are evolving in tandem, creating a positive feedback loop for better workflows. As it stands, the line between the two has never been more blurred. “Pathologists should not be afraid of AI,” Parwani said. “AI is just another tool. In the future there will be no digital pathology or AI – it’s all just going to be pathology.”

And to get on board, the speakers had one piece of advice: “Just start now – no matter how small.”

Watch the full panel discussion on demand now!

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