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COMBI Seminar: Prof Peter Hamilton

Breaking the Glass Habit: Revolutionizing Tissue Biomarker Research and Clinical Practice with Digital Pathology

Prof Peter Hamilton

Pathology Bioimaging and Informatics, Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, Queen's University of Belfast, Lisburn Road, Belfast BT7 1NN, United Kingdom
i-Path Diagnostics Ltd., Northern Ireland Science Park, Unit 2, Belfast, BT3 9DT, United Kingdom

Venue and Date

CS.007 at 2pm on Thu, Jan 26, 2012


Despite considerable research on image analysis in pathology over the last 40 years there has been relatively modest transfer of these methods into routine pathological evaluation in both research and practice. This has largely been due to the technical and practical difficulties of introducing quantitative imaging techniques into routine practice. This is now changing. “Digital pathology” as it now known, once again finds itself in the spotlight as a technique that can underpin tissue biomarker discovery and as a practical tool to enhance diagnostic practice in histopathology. The basis of this revolution is whole slide imaging (WSI) and virtual microscopy.

We have been developing a range of new tools for the high throughput quantitative evaluation of WSI in biomarker discovery. Our focus has been to facilitate biomarker discovery from tissue microarrays – a powerful platform for analysing multiple patient samples in a single assay. In addition to developing algorithms for immunohistochemical measurement, we have also developed the use of image texture for automated tumour pattern recognition for tissue microarray analysis and for content-based image retrieval in pathology. We have constructed a high performance computing (HPC) platform for the high throughput analysis of tissue biomarkers on Tissue Microarrays (TMAs). This parallelisation of tissue core analysis can significantly speed up TMA analysis, making it a truly high throughput platform for biomarker discovery. A range of algorithms have been developed for IHC biomarker analysis in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) TMAs including BAX, BAK, BRCA1 and NOX. This high throughput platform provides a means to rapidly discover and validate new tissue biomarkers and develop companion predictive algorithms for stratified therapeutics.

Image analysis is having a growing role to play in primary routine diagnosis. As developments in stratified medicine demand new companion tissue diagnostics, the need for imaging support is likely to increase. This will not be a fully automated process. The real benefit of WSI is that it allows the combination of whole slide examination, virtual microscopy and image analysis within a single portal, providing the perfect platform for computer-aided diagnosis and overcomes the hurdles which prevented its adoption previously. We call this “augmented visualisation”. This will be facilitated by the development of multitouch interfaces: we have developed digital slide interfaces for the Microsoft Surface and the Apple i-Pad. The adoption of digital pathology in routine practice will however, also require a closer integration of scanning technology with Laboratory information Management Systems (LIMS) and a careful consideration of pathology workflow, regulatory (FDA) and safety issues and DICOM standardisation. These changes are already underway and laboratories are at last beginning to realise the real value that digital pathology can bring. The next few years will see interesting and rapid developments in digital pathology and image analysis, with a critical tipping point where tissue and cell imaging become integral to tissue-based research and in diagnostic practice.