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Outside the Lab Profession, Digital and computational pathology

The Place Maker

Please introduce yourself!

My name is Aleksandra Zuraw and I’m a Veterinary Pathologist who specializes in digital pathology. I am originally from Poland but now reside in the US – the sixth country that I’ve lived in! I founded The Digital Pathology Place – a digital platform that brings digital pathology solutions in front of the right people through educational videos and audio content. The website has grown into a podcast, a blog, a Youtube channel, and – somewhere along the way – I started helping digital pathology businesses reach their target audiences.

What led you to your career in veterinary science? And why did you pick pathology specifically?

When I was young, I read the book “All Creatures Great and Small" by James Herriot. The story was a defining moment in my life, and – from that point onwards – I knew I was going to be a vet. Everything was dictated by this book. After vet school, I practiced for three years. For the first year, I was a large animal vet, but soon realized the onslaught of emergency calls in cold conditions were not suited to me! I originally enrolled for a PhD program in Poland, but knew I wanted to do my residency at the same time. So, I found a university in Berlin, Germany, and was accepted for an externship program for 12 weeks. To be honest, I chose pathology through a process of elimination – I discarded poultry medicine, herd management, internal medicine, and was left with horse medicine and pathology. I was curious! I started the externship in the pathology department and never looked back.

Can you share your most interesting experience as a veterinary pathologist?

I’d say my role as a veterinary pathologist who supports drug development is very interesting in general. My little contribution – evaluating pathology slides – helps bring drugs to market. And that’s exactly the kind of relevance that motivated me to enter the pathology field in the first place. Every FDA approved drug has had a veterinary pathologist look at its preclinical development – I don’t think many people are aware of this. After all, the more prestigious part of development is when the drug actually makes it to clinical trials. But, before this happens, there are hundreds of drug candidates being tested in animals – and evaluated by a veterinary pathologist. Isn’t that interesting?

How did you become interested in digital pathology?

I started my post-PhD career at a digital pathology company. I worked with computer and tissue image analysis scientists to develop algorithms for the analysis and quantification of immune cells – with the aim of supporting pharma companies’ immuno-oncology portfolios. I was not really looking at animal tissues. I was looking at digital images of human tissue and supporting biomarker discovery in the pharmaceutical industry. I loved that I could contribute to the quality of the data and to the insights generated by this technology. And I very much enjoyed the collaborative experience. Straight out of residency, I didn’t look at any glass slides, I was viewing everything digitally. A lot of people wait a long time for their institutions to become digitized, but I entered this world instantaneously and didn’t want to leave. 

How did your blog – the Digital Pathology Place – get started?

I started the blog because I realized that the digital pathology pipeline contains many people with different areas of expertise and educational backgrounds. I call my group “The Digital Pathology Trailblazers,” these are the people involved in sharing knowledge and bridging the gap between specialties. Everybody in the digital pathology ecosystem, including pathologists, computer scientists, regulatory experts, vendors, and sales representatives, all need to learn something that is new to them to communicate with the other players in the pipeline. We all need to speak the same “language” to produce the most seamless results! In 2021, I incorporated as a company to help digital pathology businesses reach the right audiences through informative content.

What inspired you to create this content? Do you have a background in video editing?

It took me two attempts to pass my boards. I found the pathology books cumbersome – and often fell asleep while reading them. One day, I stumbled across a YouTube channel that covered a lot of general pathology topics that I needed to learn for the exam. I started watching these videos and – paired with my example questions – I eventually passed my exams. The channel truly inspired me to create pathology content in a more interactive way. I also love listening to audiobooks – so podcasts were something that I naturally gravitated to. I’m self taught, but have since hired a video editor to assist me – it's a lot of work!

How important is social media as an educational platform for young pathologists?

I think social media is a means to reach a broader audience. But it’s not a magic formula for success. The content you provide will only ever resonate with a fraction of the people. Social media merely acts as a net to draw in the people who are actually interested – the people who are willing to click on a video, and the people who actively engage with the content. For me, when someone engages with my videos, I invite them into my digital pathology community – the real value is when direct conversation can be established!

What is the biggest lesson you've learned throughout your career?

A pathologist is not always right! During education, there is always somebody to look up to in your niche, but when you step out of this circle and into full-time work, you are regarded as the expert. I was the only full-time pathologist at the first company I worked at. Going from the lowest to the highest step of the ladder was a fantastic feeling, but I soon realized that I was not familiar with the digital pathology and image analysis  pipeline – for example, the technological aspects or the computer vision parts. At the start of my career, I was not giving the best pathology advice or approaching the problem from the best angle. Once I filled my knowledge gap about digital pathology as a whole, things became a lot easier.

Access Aleksandra’s free guide on how to take beautiful microscopic pictures with your phone!

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