Digital Pathology Update

Traditionally, pathologists diagnosed cancer by placing biopsy specimens on glass slides and examining them under a microscope. But glass slides are difficult to store, retrieve, transport and share with colleagues.

In 2017, the OSUCCC – James initiated a comprehensive digital pathology program. Digital pathology involves taking tissue mounted on microscope slides and scanning them to produce digital images that have the same diagnostic detail as the original slide. With a few clicks, an OSUCCC – James pathologist can call up a patient’s virtual biopsy, paired with clinical information, to quickly get an integrated picture of the patient’s unique cancer, allowing faster delivery of optimal therapy.

In addition, Pelotonia funds have enabled the digital pathology service to scan more than 570,000 tumor sections stored on glass slides from 50,000 past cancer cases. This digital archive, which includes associated clinical data minus all identifying patient information, is now available to cancer researchers worldwide.

“Thanks to Pelotonia, those specimens will see new life and contribute to the discovery of new biomarkers and new ways to more accurately diagnose cancer,” says Anil Parwani, MD, PhD, MBA, who leads the digital pathology project for the OSUCCC – James and the Department of Pathology, and directs anatomic pathology at Ohio State’s Department of Pathology.

In a related project, Wendy Frankel, MD, chair of Pathology, is using a Pelotonia Idea Grant to develop image-analysis techniques that will accurately assess tumor budding in digital images of colorectal cancer tissue sections.

Tumor budding happens when individual or small clusters of tumor cells pinch off, or bud, from the front edge of an invading tumor. Colorectal cancers that show cancer-cell budding may be aggressive, spread to lymph nodes, recur and have worse outcomes.

“Tumor budding can be an independent prognostic factor in colorectal cancer and help determine a patient’s treatment,” says Frankel, whose research team includes other pathologists, image analysis scientists and a biostatistician.

Frankel and her colleagues will also compare their computer-assisted evaluation of tumor budding with manual evaluation. Last, they will correlate tumor budding with clinical and pathological features already collected by the Ohio Colorectal Cancer Prevention Initiative, a statewide Pelotonia-supported project that involved 50 Ohio hospitals.

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