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Research by UHCW clears way for digital pathology use in cancer screening samples

New technology that could speed up analysis of cancer screening samples has been approved by the UK government.

Go-ahead for the use of digital pathology is based on research led by University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust and The University of Warwick’s Clinical Trials Unit.

It will mean faster reporting of samples, particularly in bowel, breast, lung and cervical cancer.

Lead Researcher, UHCW Consultant Pathologist Professor David Snead, said: “I am delighted that digital pathology is cleared for use in cancer screening programmes.

“It is a big milestone to achieve and we are extremely proud that the work we have led proved so effective in making this change.

“The team would like to thank the pathologists, research fellows, statisticians and laboratory technicians who conducted the study and the technical support received from 3DHISTECH and Philips in providing equipment to make it happen.

“It was a huge task to do, but the data we produced was vital to demonstrate this technology is safe in the hands of our pathologists.

“UHCW can rightly claim to have led the world in the transition to using digital pathology in clinical practice. Doing so enables many benefits to be realised, including the option to use Artificial Intelligence-based tools to support pathologists in their work.”

Histopathology – the examining of cells and tissues under a microscope – is a key step in many major disease pathways, where early detection of cancer plays a crucial role in survival.

Digital pathology is the use of automated slide scanners to digitise the histopathology process, with results reported on computer workstations as opposed to a conventional microscope.

This process makes sharing samples easier, helping to reduce risk of loss or damage of samples. It also mitigates the need for pathologists to be present in hospitals as they can review slides remotely.

Digitising the slides might also allow in coming years for the use of computer algorithms to help improve pathologists’ performance.

Following a consultation by the UK National Screening Committee, the Government has now approved the use of digital pathology for analysing cancer screening samples.

Professor Janet Dunn, lead for the Warwick Clinical Trials Unit, said: “It is great that the UK Government recognise the importance of this research. It was a pleasure to work with Professor Snead on this important study.”

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research and the Health Technology Assessment Programme.

In total, six NHS hospitals took part: UHCW, The Queen’s University of Belfast, Nottingham University Hospital, Oxford John Radcliffe Hospital, United Lincolnshire Hospital and University Hospitals Birmingham.

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