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Anatomic pathology is the diagnosis of disease based on the examination of organs and tissue at a microscopic level. This medical specialty has existed for several hundred years. Recently, the option to diagnose digitally became viable, but it would not have been possible without many early stepping stones. Here are the top 12 events and developments in the history of digital pathology that have made it what it is today. 

The First Microscope

Dutch inventor Zacharias Janssen invents the first compound microscope in the 1600s. Zacharias was the son of a spectacle maker, so many theorize his father may have helped develop the microscope. There were several people at the time, however, that came out with similar technology and there is dispute as to who invented it first. There are no early models around, but a museum in Middleburg has a microscope dated from 1595 with the Janssen name. It was more than 50 years before the microscope became widely used among scientists.

The Birth of Pathology

Later, in the mid-1850s, German scientist Rudolph Virchow developed the concept of cellular pathology. History calls him the father of modern pathology. As an early pioneer in the field, he concluded that diseases arose in individual cells, not in organs and tissue in general. Some of his early discoveries are included in a published a paper in 1845 where describes one of the two earliest reported cases of leukemia.

First Telemedicine Experiment

In 1968 the first telemedicine experiment took place. A group sent black and white photos of blood smears from the Logan Airport to the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. This occurred via microwave relay as a means to provide medical services to travelers and airline staff.

“Telepathology” Added to the English Dictionary

Nearly two decades later, the word telepathology was added to the dictionary. Then, in 1986 the first telepathology patent application was submitted for trademark. 

First Whole Slide Imaging (WSI) Scanner

In 1994 James Bacus designed the first commercial slide scanner. The first digital microscope systems cost about $300,000 to set up, and took over 24 hours to scan a single slide. He worked with the American Board of Pathology to introduce virtual microscopy into board certification of pathologists. His efforts set up the stage for the dozens of WSI scanners on the market today. Olympus acquired his company several years later. 

Software Developments Enable Virtual Microscope

In 1996 to 1998, there were many breakthroughs in software that made it possible to support the earliest virtual microscope. 

FDA Primary Diagnosis Discussions

An FDA panel meeting addressed the use of digital pathology for primary diagnosis in 2009. 

Advancements in Digital Storage

In the 2010s, cloud computing gained momentum, making it easier to scan and store huge files. This was a big game-changer in the history of digital pathology. It kicked off with three cloud giants launching their businesses: Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, and Google. Then, over the decade, other services were invented and grew like serverless computing, containers, microservices, cloud native services, and an explosion of Software as a Service (SaaS) companies. 

Telepathology Guidelines Set

In 2013 telepathology guidelines were developed by the Royal College of Pathologists. They defined telepathology as “the electronic transmission of pathological images, usually derived from microscopes, from one location to another, for the purpose of interpretation and diagnosis.” They also listed benefits of digital pathology as well as downsides and risks they foresaw.

First WSI Scanner Approved by the FDA

On April 12, 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Philips IntelliSite Pathology Solution. From then on, pathologists could use it to review and interpret digital surgical pathology slides.

COVID-19 Accelerates Digital Pathology

COVID-19 increased the demand and need for telemedicine. On March 26, 2020, CMS issued a temporary digital pathology CLIA waiver. The waiver allows pathologists to view and diagnose pathology slides remotely. Then, on April 24, 2020, the FDA enforced a new digital pathology policy.  It increased the availability of whole slide imaging devices for remote diagnosis of slides. The policy made digital pathology more accessible, flexible, and less expensive. Pathologists have access to a greater variety of scanners and monitors, so long as they validate the devices in each remote work location. 

Deep Learning and Artificial Intelligence

Within the last few years, there has been an acceleration of artificial intelligence within the field of digital pathology. Just this year Google’s Verily and Lumea formed a development partnership. Pathologists using the Lumea platform will have access to Verily’s AI to assist in identifying and grading prostate cancer within their existing digital workflow. 

In conclusion, thanks to these great achievements in the history of digital pathology, there is a wide variety of scanners and systems for any type and size of pathology practice. We look forward to the bright future and the incredible advancements the next decade will bring.  If you want to see a truly unique, all-in-one digital pathologist solution, request a free demo any time. Lumea’s software, technology, and revolutionary tissue handling advancements are bringing the future of digital pathology to today. 

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