Pathologists using digital imaging will soon encounter the “BigTIFF” file format. This new technology allows for TIFF files of any size. Previously, TIFF files were limited to 4 gigabytes.

This development comes through work done by Aperio Technologies. Earlier this month, Aperio announced that it had enhanced the libtiff library, an open-source cross-platform library which enables applications software to read and write images stored as TIFF files, to support BigTIFF files. Aperio donated these enhancements to the public domain in order to allow pathology laboratories and the world at large to benefit from them. Aperio is now working with the TIFF standards body to incorporate them into a future standard release.

The new version of the libtiff library is backward-compatible with previous versions and, in many cases, applications software will not have to change in order to create and process BigTiff Files. This enhancement to the TIFF standard enables image files larger than 4GB to be created and processed, in a backward-compatible fashion.

Dark Daily asked Aperio CEO Dirk Soenksen what the BigTIFF file format would enable pathologists to do that they could not before the invention of BigTIFF. “A terabyte-sized digital slide makes it possible to scan large specimens at ultra high resolution (e.g., large areas of a blood smear using oil-immersion optics), something that was not possible with the 4GB limit of traditional TIFF files,” said Soenksen. “Overcoming the 4GB limit extends the utility of digital pathology beyond histology, to applications that require ultra high-resolution (e.g., hematopathology).”

In order to demonstrate the amazing capabilities of BigTIFF, Aperio has created the world’s first terapixel image (1 terapixel = 1 trillion pixels). The image is over one million pixels wide, and consists of 225 copies of a breast cancer digital slide combined together. The image was compressed into a TIFF file size of 143 GB.

BigTIFF represents another example of the rapid progress underway in imaging technology. Along with graphic file sizes that support a richer, more detailed image, Internet technologies are advancing to allow the transmission of larger file sizes in shorter amounts of time. Collectively, these emerging technologies will make it easier for anatomic pathologists to capture useful images which can be transmitted easily and quickly. Dark Daily observes that digitization of pathology imaging has the potential to great alter existing patterns of pathology case referrals and second opinions.