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Scientists Revive and Characterize 13 Ancient “Zombie” Viruses Isolated from Siberian Permafrost

Viruses are between 27,000 to 48,500 years old and not dangerous, but researchers say thawing permafrost may one day release pathogens capable of infecting humans

Last fall, European researchers working with virologists and genetic scientists at the Aix-Marseille University in France reported having revived and characterized 13 previously unknown “zombie” viruses isolated from Siberian permafrost samples, including one that was almost 50,000 years old. This will be of particular interest to microbiologists and clinical laboratory managers since these organisms are new to science and may be precursors to infectious agents active in the world today.

The work of the European scientists demonstrates how advancements in genome sequencing and analysis of DNA data are becoming, faster, less expensive, and more precise. That’s good because the researchers warned that, should the permafrost continue to thaw, other previously dormant viruses could be released, posing potential risks for public health.

The scientists published their findings in the open-access journal Viruses titled, “An Update on Eukaryotic Viruses Revived from Ancient Permafrost.”

The pathogens isolated by the researchers are so-called “giant viruses” that infect Acanthamoeba, a commonly found genus of amoeba, and thus are not likely to pose an immediate health threat, the researchers wrote.

However, the scientists expressed concern. “We believe our results with Acanthamoeba-infecting viruses can be extrapolated to many other DNA viruses capable of infecting humans or animals. It is thus likely that ancient permafrost … will release these unknown viruses upon thawing,” they stated in their Viruses paper.

It’s unknown how long the viruses “could be infectious once exposed to outdoor conditions (UV light, oxygen, heat), and how likely they will be to encounter and infect a suitable host in the interval,” they added. However, “the risk is bound to increase in the context of global warming, in which permafrost thawing will keep accelerating, and more people will populate the Arctic in the wake of industrial ventures.”

Paulo Verardi, PhD

“In nature we have a big natural freezer, which is the Siberian permafrost,” virologist Paulo Verardi, PhD (above), head of the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science at the University of Connecticut, told The Washington Post. “And that can be a little bit concerning.” However, “if you do the risk assessment, this is very low. We have many more things to worry about right now.” Nevertheless, clinical laboratories may want to remain vigilant. (Photo copyright: University of Connecticut.)

Extremely Old, Very Large Viruses

The newly discovered viruses were found in seven different permafrost samples. Radiocarbon dating determined that they had been dormant for 27,000 to 48,500 years. But viruses contained in permafrost could be even older, the researchers wrote, as the time limit is “solely dictated by the validity range of radiocarbon dating.”

In their Viruses paper, the researchers noted that most of the 13 viruses are “at a preliminary stage of characterization,” and others have been isolated in the research laboratory “but not yet published, pending their complete genome assembly, annotation, or detailed analysis.”

“Every time we look, we will find a virus,” study co-author Jean-Michel Claverie, PhD, told The Washington Post. “It’s a done deal. We know that every time we’re going to look for viruses—infectious viruses in permafrost—we are going to find some.”

Claverie is a professor emeritus of genomics and bioinformatics in the School of Medicine at Aix-Marseille Université in Marseille, France. He leads a university laboratory known for its work in “paleovirology,” and in 2003, discovered the first known giant virus, dubbed Mimivirus. The research team included scientists from Germany and Russia.

According to CNN, unlike regular viruses that generally require an electron microscope to be viewed, giant viruses can be seen under a standard light (optical) microscope. Claverie’s laboratory previously isolated giant viruses from permafrost in 2014 and 2015.

Protecting Against Accidental Infection

To demonstrate the infectious potential of the viruses, the researchers inserted the microbes into cultured amoeba cells, which the researchers describes as “virus bait,” The Washington Post reported. One advantage of using Acanthamoeba cultures is to maintain “biological security,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

“We are using [the amoeba’s] billion years of evolutionary distance with human and other mammals as the best possible protection against an accidental infection of laboratory workers or the spread of a dreadful virus once infecting Pleistocene mammals to their contemporary relatives,” the paper noted. “The biohazard associated with reviving prehistorical amoeba-infecting viruses is thus totally negligible compared to the search for ‘paleoviruses’ directly from permafrost-preserved remains of mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, or prehistoric horses.”

The paper cites earlier research noting the presence of bacteria in ancient permafrost samples, “a significant proportion of which are thought to be alive.” These include relatives of contemporary pathogens such as:

How Dangerous are Ancient Viruses?

“We can reasonably hope that an epidemic caused by a revived prehistoric pathogenic bacterium could be quickly controlled by the modern antibiotics at our disposal,” the researchers wrote, but “the situation would be much more disastrous in the case of plant, animal, or human diseases caused by the revival of an ancient unknown virus.”

However, according to The Washington Post, “Virologists who were not involved in the research said the specter of future pandemics being unleashed from the Siberian steppe ranks low on the list of current public health threats. Most new—or ancient—viruses are not dangerous, and the ones that survive the deep freeze for thousands of years tend not to be in the category of coronaviruses and other highly infectious viruses that lead to pandemics.”

Cornell University virologist Colin Parrish, PhD, President of the American Society for Virology, told The Washington Post that an ancient virus “seems like a low risk compared to the large numbers of viruses that are circulating among vertebrates around the world, and that have proven to be real threats in the past, and where similar events could happen in the future, as we still lack a framework for recognizing those ahead of time.”

Anthony Fauci, MD, former Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), responded to an earlier study from Claverie’s lab by outlining all the unlikely events that would have to transpire for one of these viruses to cause a pandemic. “The permafrost virus must be able to infect humans, it must then [cause disease], and it must be able to spread efficiently from human to human,” he told The Washington Post in 2015. “This can happen, but it is very unlikely.”

Thus, clinical laboratories probably won’t see new diagnostic testing to identify ancient viruses anytime soon. But it’s always best to remain vigilant.

Stephen Beale

Related Information:

Scientists Have Revived a ‘Zombie’ Virus That Spent 48,500 Years Frozen in Permafrost

‘Zombie’ Viruses Are Thawing in Melting Permafrost Because of Climate Change

Ancient Dormant Viruses Found in Permafrost, Once Revived, Can Infect Amoeba

Scientists Revive 48,500-Year-Old ‘Zombie Virus’ Buried in Ice

Scientists Revived Ancient ‘Zombie Viruses’ Frozen for Eons in Siberia

Scientists Warn Long-Frozen ‘Zombie Virus’ Is ‘Public Health Threat’ Amid Thaw

Scientists Did Not Release a Zombie Plague by Reviving a Dormant Virus, but Their Warning of a Potential Public Health Crisis Is Legitimate

US and UK Researchers Simultaneously Develop New Tests to Detect Prostate Cancer

Though still in trials, early results show tests may be more accurate than traditional clinical laboratory tests for detecting prostate cancer

Within weeks of each other, different research teams in the US and UK published findings of their respective efforts to develop a better, more accurate clinical laboratory prostate cancer test. With cancer being a leading cause of death among men—second only to heart disease according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—new diagnostics to identify prostate cancer would be a boon to precision medicine treatments for the deadly disease and could save many lives.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, England, were working to improve the accuracy of the widely-used and accepted prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. By contrast, researchers at Cedars-Sinai Cancer in Los Angeles, pursued a new liquid biopsy approach to identifying prostate cancer that uses nanotechnology.

Thus, these are two different pathways toward the goal of achieving earlier, more accurate diagnosis of prostate cancer, the holy grail of prostate cancer diagnosis.

Dmitry Pshezhetskiy, PhD

“There is currently no single test for prostate cancer, but PSA blood tests are among the most used, alongside physical examinations, MRI scans, and biopsies,” said Dmitry Pshezhetskiy, PhD (above), Professorial Research Fellow at University of East Anglia and one of the authors of the UEA study. “However, PSA blood tests are not routinely used to screen for prostate cancer, as results can be unreliable. Only about a quarter of people who have a prostate biopsy due to an elevated PSA level are found to have prostate cancer. There has therefore been a drive to create a new blood test with greater accuracy.” With the completion of the US and UK studies, clinical laboratories may soon have a new diagnostic test for prostate cancer. (Photo copyright: University of East Anglia.)

East Anglia’s Research into a More Accurate Blood Test

Scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) worked with researchers from Imperial College in London, Imperial College NHS Trust, and Oxford BioDynamics to develop a new precision medicine blood test that can detect prostate cancer with greater accuracy than current methods.

The epigenetic blood test they developed, called Prostate Screening EpiSwitch (PSE), can identify cancer-specific chromosome conformations in blood samples. The test works in tandem with the standard prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test to diagnose prostate cancer, according to an Oxford BioDynamics press release.

The researchers evaluated their test in a pilot study involving 147 patients. They found their testing method had a 94% accuracy rate, which is higher than that of PSA testing alone. They discovered their test significantly improved the overall detection of prostate cancer in men who are at risk for the disease. 

“When tested in the context of screening a population at risk, the PSE test yields a rapid and minimally invasive prostate cancer diagnosis with impressive performance,” Dmitry Pshezhetskiy, PhD, Professorial Research Fellow at UEA and one of the authors of the study told Science Daily. “This suggests a real benefit for both diagnostic and screening purposes.”

The UK scientists hope their test can eventually be used in everyday clinical practice as there is a need for a highly accurate method for prostate cancer screening that does not subject patients to unnecessary, costly, invasive procedures. 

The UEA researchers published their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Cancers, titled, “Circulating Chromosome Conformation Signatures Significantly Enhance PSA Positive Predicting Value and Overall Accuracy for Prostate Cancer Detection.”

Cedars-Sinai’s Research into Nanotechnology Cancer Testing

Researchers from Cedars-Sinai Cancer took a different approach to diagnosing prostate cancer by developing a nanotechnology-based liquid biopsy test that detects the disease even in microscopic amounts.  

Their test isolates and identifies extracellular vesicles (EVs) from blood samples. EVs are microscopic non-reproducing protein and genetic material shed by all cells. Cedars-Sinai’s EV Digital Scoring Assay accurately extracts EVs from blood and analyzes them faster than similar currently available tests.

“This research will revolutionize the liquid biopsy in prostate cancer,” said oncologist Edwin Posadas, MD, Medical Director of the Urologic Oncology Program and co-director of the Experimental Therapeutics Program in Cedars-Sinai Cancer in a press release. “The test is fast, minimally invasive and cost-effective, and opens up a new suite of tools that will help us optimize treatment and quality of life for prostate cancer patients.”

The researchers tested blood samples from 40 patients with prostate cancer. They found that their EV test could distinguish between cancer localized to the prostate and cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Microscopic cancer deposits, called micrometastases, are not always detectable, even with advanced imaging methods. When these deposits spread outside the prostate area, focused radiation cannot prevent further progression of the disease. Thus, the ability to identify cancer by locale within the body could lead to new precision medicine treatments for the illness.

“[The EV Digital Scoring Assay] would allow many patients to avoid the potential harms of radiation that isn’t targeting their disease, and instead receive systemic therapy that could slow disease progression,” Posadas explained.

The Cedars-Sinai researchers published their findings in Nano Today, titled, “Prostate Cancer Extracellular Vesicle Digital Scoring Assay: A Rapid Noninvasive Approach for Quantification of Disease-relevant mRNAs.”

Other Clinical Laboratory Tests for Prostate Cancer Under Development

According to the American Cancer Society, the number of prostate cancer cases is increasing. One out of eight men will be diagnosed with the illness during his lifetime. Thus, developers have been working on clinical laboratory tests to accurately detect the disease and save lives for some time.

In “University of East Anglia Researchers Develop Non-Invasive Prostate Cancer Urine Test,” Dark Daily reported on a urine test also developed by scientists at the University of East Anglia that clinical laboratories can use to not only accurately diagnose prostate cancer but also determine whether it is an aggressive form of the disease.

And in “UPMC Researchers Develop Artificial Intelligence Algorithm That Detects Prostate Cancer with ‘Near Perfect Accuracy’ in Effort to Improve How Pathologists Diagnose Cancer ,” we outlined how researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) working with Ibex Medical Analytics in Israel had developed an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm for digital pathology that can accurately diagnose prostate cancer. In the initial study, the algorithm—dubbed the Galen Prostate AI platform—accurately detected prostate cancer with 98% sensitivity and 97% specificity.

More research and clinical trials are needed before the new US and UK prostate cancer testing methods will be ready to be used in clinical settings. But it’s clear that ongoing research may soon produce new clinical laboratory tests and diagnostics for prostate cancer that will steer treatment options and allow for better patient outcomes.  

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

The New Prostate Cancer Blood Test with 94 Percent Accuracy

Circulating Chromosome Conformation Signatures Significantly Enhance PSA Positive Predicting Value and Overall Accuracy for Prostate Cancer Detection

Invention: A Blood Test to Unlock Prostate Cancer Mysteries

Prostate Cancer Extracellular Vesicle Digital Scoring Assay: A Rapid Noninvasive Approach for Quantification of Disease-relevant mRNAs

Could a Urine Test Detect Pancreatic and Prostate Cancer? Study Shows 99% Success Rate

University of East Anglia Researchers Develop Non-Invasive Prostate Cancer Urine Test

UPMC Researchers Develop Artificial Intelligence Algorithm That Detects Prostate Cancer with ‘Near Perfect Accuracy’ in Effort to Improve How Pathologists Diagnose Cancer

Clarapath Acquires Crosscope, Bridging Histology Automation with Digital Pathology

Clarapath is working to automate manual processes in histology while also capturing data to better inform clinical laboratories

Looking to provide an end-to-end digital pathology solution, medical robotics maker Clarapath has acquired Crosscope, a medical artificial intelligence (AI) software company that develops AI-powered telepathology for medical image information extraction and precision medicine diagnostics.

The deal will enable Crosscope’s digital pathology platform to layer around Clarapath’s histology automation hardware, a combination that could improve quality and efficiencies in diagnostic services for future customers, according to a Clarapath press release.

Clarapath’s goal with its products is to automate certain manual processes in histology laboratories, while at the same time reducing variability in how specimens are processed and produced into glass slides. In an exclusive interview with Dark Daily, Eric Feinstein, CEO and President at Clarapath said he believes the resulting data about these activities can drive further changes.

“A histotechnologist turns a microtome wheel and makes decisions about a piece of tissue in real time,” noted Feinstein, who will speak at the Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management on April 25-26 in New Orleans. “All of that real-time data isn’t captured. Imagine if we could take all of that data from thousands of histotechnologists who are cutting every day and aggregate it. Then you could start drawing definitive conclusions about best practices.”

Eric Feinstein

“Clarapath’s foundation is about creating consistency and standardizing steps in histology—and uncovering the data that you need in order to accomplish those goals as a whole system,” Eric Feinstein (above), CEO and President at Clarapath told Dark Daily. “A histology lab’s workflow—from when the tissue comes in to when the glass slide is produced—should all be connected.” Many processes in histology and anatomic pathology continue to be manual. Automated solutions can contribute to improved productivity and reducing variability in how individual specimens are processed. (Photo copyright: Clarapath.)

Details Behind Clarapath’s Deal to Acquire Crosscope

As part of its acquisition, Clarapath of Hawthorne, New York, has retained all of Crosscope’s employees, who are located in Mountain View, California, and Bombay, India. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Clarapath’s flagship histology automation product is SectionStar, a tissue sectioning and transfer system designed to automate inefficient and manual activities in slide processing. The device offers faster and more efficient sample processing while reducing human involvement. Clarapath expects SectionStar be on the market in 2023. The company is currently taking pre-orders. 

Meanwhile, Crosscope developed Crosscope Dx, a turnkey digital pathology solution that provides workflow tools and slide management as well as AI and machine learning to assist pathologists with their medical decision-making and diagnoses.

Adoption of Digital Pathology and Automation Can Be Challenging

Digital pathology has experienced growing popularity in the post-COVID-19 pandemic world. This is not only because remote pathology case reviews have become increasingly acceptable to physicians but also because of the ongoing shortages in clinical laboratory staffing.

“A pain point today for clinicians and laboratories is labor. That’s across the board,” Feinstein said. “We can help solve that with SectionStar.”

In “Recent Separate Business Transactions by Fujifilm and GE Healthcare Suggest Bullish Outlook for Faster Adoption of Digital Pathology,” Dark Daily reported that vendors have their eyes open for deals and partnerships in digital pathology.

Feinstein does not believe adoption of digital pathology and histology automation is proceeding slowly, but he does acknowledge barriers to healthcare organizations installing the technologies.

“There are lots of little things that—from a workflow perspective—people have outsized expectations about,” he explained. “Clinicians and administrators are not used to innovating in a product sense. They may be innovating on how they deliver care or treatment pathways, but they’re not used to developing an engineering product and going through alpha and beta stages. That makes adopting new technology challenging.”

Medical laboratory managers and pathologists interested in pursuing histology automation and digital pathology should first determine what processes are sub-optimal or would benefit from the standardization hardware and software can offer. Being able to articulate those gains can help build the case for a return on investment to decision-makers.

Another resource to consider: Feinstein will speak about innovations for remote histology laboratory workers at the upcoming Executive War College for Clinical Laboratory, Diagnostics, and Pathology Management on April 25-26 in New Orleans. His session is titled, “Re-engineering the Classic Histology Laboratory: Enabling the Remote Histotechnologist with New Tools That Improve Productivity, Automate Processes, and Protect Quality.”

Scott Wallask

Related Information:

Clarapath Acquires Crosscope and Combines Tissue Processing Robotics with AI Powered Digital Pathology for Building the Lab of the Future

Histopathology is Ripe for Automation

UCLA’s Virtual Histology Could Eliminate Need for Invasive Biopsies for Some Skin Conditions and Cancers

2023 Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management Announced for April 25-26

Cedars-Sinai Researchers Determine Smartphone App Can Assess Stool Form as Well as Gastroenterologists and Better than IBS Patients

Artificial intelligence performs BSS assessments with higher sensitivity and specificity than human diagnosticians

In a recent study conducted by scientists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, researchers evaluated a smartphone application (app) that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to assess and characterize digital images of stool samples. The app, it turns out, matched the accuracy of participating gastroenterologists and exceeded the accuracy of study patients’ self-reports of stool specimens, according to a news release.

Though smartphone apps are technically not clinical laboratory tools, anatomic pathologists and medical laboratory scientists (MLSs) may be interested to learn how health information technology (HIT), machine learning, and smartphone apps are being used to assess different aspects of individuals’ health, independent of trained healthcare professionals.

The issue that the Cedars Sinai researchers were investigating is the accuracy of patient self-reporting. Because poop can be more complicated than meets the eye, when asked to describe their bowel movements patients often find it difficult to be specific. Thus, use of a smartphone app that enables patients to accurately assess their stools in cases where watching the function of their digestive tract is relevant to their diagnoses and treatment would be a boon to precision medicine treatments of gastroenterology diseases.

The scientists published their findings in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, titled, “A Smartphone Application Using Artificial Intelligence Is Superior to Subject Self-Reporting when Assessing Stool Form.”

Mark Pimentel, MD

“This app takes out the guesswork by using AI—not patient input—to process the images (of bowel movements) taken by the smartphone,” said gastroenterologist Mark Pimentel, MD (above), Executive Director of Cedars-Sinai’s Medically Associated Science and Technology (MAST) program and principal investigator of the study, in a news release. “The mobile app produced more accurate and complete descriptions of constipation, diarrhea, and normal stools than a patient could, and was comparable to specimen evaluations by well-trained gastroenterologists in the study.” (Photo copyright: Cedars-Sinai.)

Pros and Cons of Bristol Stool Scale

In their paper, the scientists discussed the Bristol Stool Scale (BSS), a traditional diagnostic tool for identifying stool forms into seven categories. The seven types of stool are:

  • Type 1: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (difficult to pass).
  • Type 2: Sausage-shaped, but lumpy.
  • Type 3: Like a sausage, but with cracks on its surface.
  • Type 4: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft (average stool).
  • Type 5: Soft blobs with clear cut edges.
  • Type 6: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool (diarrhea).
  • Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces, entirely liquid (diarrhea). 

In an industry guidance report on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)and associated drugs for treatment, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the BSS is “an appropriate instrument for capturing stool consistency in IBS.”

But even with the BSS, things can get murky for patients. Inaccurate self-reporting of stool forms by people with IBS and diarrhea can make proper diagnoses difficult.

“The problem is that whenever you have a patient reporting an outcome measure, it becomes subjective rather than objective. This can impact the placebo effect,” gastroenterologist Mark Pimentel, MD, Executive Director of Cedars-Sinai’s Medically Associated Science and Technology (MAST) program and principal investigator of the study, told Healio.

Thus, according to the researchers, AI algorithms can help with diagnosis by systematically doing the assessments for the patients, News Medical reported.

30,000 Stool Images Train New App

To conduct their study, the Cedars-Sinai researchers tested an AI smartphone app developed by Dieta Health. According to Health IT Analytics, employing AI trained on 30,000 annotated stool images, the app characterizes digital images of bowel movements using five parameters:

  • BSS,
  • Consistency,
  • Edge fuzziness,
  • Fragmentation, and
  • Volume.

“The app used AI to train the software to detect the consistency of the stool in the toilet based on the five parameters of stool form, We then compared that with doctors who know what they are looking at,” Pimentel told Healio.

AI Assessments Comparable to Doctors, Better than Patients

According to Health IT Analytics, the researchers found that:

  • AI assessed the stool comparable to gastroenterologists’ assessments on BSS, consistency, fragmentation, and edge fuzziness scores.
  • AI and gastroenterologists had moderate-to-good agreement on volume.
  • AI outperformed study participant self-reports based on the BSS with 95% accuracy, compared to patients’ 89% accuracy.

Additionally, the AI outperformed humans in specificity and sensitivity as well:

  • Specificity (ability to correctly report a negative result) was 27% higher.
  • Sensitivity (ability to correctly report a positive result) was 23% higher.

“A novel smartphone application can determine BSS and other visual stool characteristics with high accuracy compared with the two expert gastroenterologists. Moreover, trained AI was superior to subject self-reporting of BSS. AI assessments could provide more objective outcome measures for stool characterization in gastroenterology,” the Cedars-Sinai researchers wrote in their paper.

“In addition to improving a physician’s ability to assess their patients’ digestive health, this app could be advantageous for clinical trials by reducing the variability of stool outcome measures,” said gastroenterologist Ali Rezaie, MD, study co-author and Medical Director of Cedars-Sinai’s GI Motility Program in the news release.

The researchers plan to seek FDA review of the mobile app.

Opportunity for Clinical Laboratories

Anatomic pathologists and clinical laboratory leaders may want to reach out to referring gastroenterologists to find out how they can help to better serve gastro patients. As the Cedars-Sinai study suggests, AI smartphone apps can perform BSS assessments as good as or better than humans and may be useful tools in the pursuit of precision medicine treatments for patient suffering from painful gastrointestinal disorders.

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Smartphone Application Using Artificial Intelligence is Superior to Subject Self-Reporting When Assessing Stool Form

Study: App More Accurate than Patient Evaluation of Stool Samples

Industry Guidance Report: Irritable Bowel Syndrome—Clinical Evaluation of Drugs

Artificial Intelligence-based Smartphone App for Characterizing Stool Form

AI Mobile App Improves on “Subjective” Patient-Reported Stool Assessment in IBS

Artificial Intelligence App Outperforms Patient-Reported Stool Assessments

Recent Separate Business Transactions by Fujifilm and GE Healthcare Suggest Bullish Outlook for Faster Adoption of Digital Pathology

Fujifilm acquired Inspirata’s Dynamyx digital pathology technology and business while GE Healthcare announced a partnership with Tribun Health in Europe

Clinical pathology laboratories, especially in the US, have been slow to adopt digital imaging systems. But recent industry deals suggest that the market may soon heat up, at least in the eyes of vendors. These collaborators may hope that, by integrating diagnostic data, the accuracy and productivity of anatomic pathologists will improve while also shortening the time to diagnosis.

In a December press release, Tokyo-based Fujifilm announced it acquired the global digital pathology business of Inspirata, including its Dynamyx digital pathology system. Inspirata is a Tampa-based cancer informatics company.

In the press release, Fujifilm stated that 85% of US healthcare organizations use analog systems for pathology. That compares with 86% in Europe and 90% in Asia, the company stated.

“Acquiring Inspirata’s digital pathology business allows Fujifilm to be an even stronger healthcare partner—bridging a technological gap between pathology, radiology, and oncology to facilitate a more collaborative approach to care delivery across the enterprise,” said Fujifilm CEO and president Teiichi Goto in the press release.

The press release cited data from Signify Research, a healthcare technology marketing data firm that is predicting the global market for digital pathology systems would double from $320 million in 2021 to $640 million by 2025.

Fujifilm previously had a deal with Inspirata to sell the Dynamyx system exclusively in the UK, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, an August press release noted.

Henry Izawa

“A $320 million global industry in 2021 projected to reach $640 million by 2025, the rising number of cancer cases and the demonstrated benefits of digital pathology are fueling significant demand and market growth in the hospital and pharmaceutical industries,” said Henry Izawa (above), president and CEO, Fujifilm Healthcare Americas Corporation, in a press release. “These evolving clinical needs fuel Fujifilm’s investment and innovation in the digital revolution, and we look forward to introducing Dynamyx and its host of unique features and benefits to our Synapse customers and prospects as we strive to enable more efficient medical diagnosis and high-quality care.” (Photo copyright: LinkedIn.)

GE Healthcare Partners with Tribun Health

The Fujifilm acquisition followed an October 18 announcement of a collaboration between GE Healthcare and digital pathology company Tribun Health in Europe to provide an interface between the latter’s digital pathology software and GE Healthcare’s Edison Datalogue image-management system.

In announcing their new collaboration, GE Healthcare and Tribun Health said the integration of their systems—Edison Datalogue and the Tribun Health suite—would foster collaboration between pathologists and clinicians by providing a consolidated location for imaging records. This capability is especially important in oncology, they said.

“The oncology care pathway is one of the most complex with multiple steps involving a variety of specialists, complex tools, frequent decisions, and large data sets,” said GE Healthcare CEO of Enterprise Digital Solutions Nalinikanth Gollagunta in a GE press release. “With this digital pathology collaboration, we continue our journey towards simplifying the oncology care pathway with improved data management, the digitization of pathology, and streamlined data access.”

Tribun Health, based in Paris, France, offers a digital pathology platform that incorporates a camera system, artificial intelligence (AI)-based analysis, remote collaboration, and storage management, plus integration with third-party automation apps.

GE Healthcare claims that Edison Datalogue has the largest share of the Vendor Neutral Archive (VNA) market. That term refers to image archiving systems that use standard formats and interfaces instead of proprietary formats. They are an alternative to the more widely used Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS) used in medical imaging.

The collaboration between the companies “is probably a strategic move to position GE as an integrator of imaging data and digital pathology data in oncology,” said Robert Michel Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report.

GE’s History with Dynamyx

This is not GE Healthcare’s first foray into digital pathology. In fact, the company had a major hand in launching the very Dynamyx system that Fujifilm recently acquired.

Dynamyx was originally developed by digital pathology technology company Omnyx, LLC, which was a joint venture formed in 2008 between GE Healthcare and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

In “GE Healthcare Sells Omnyx to Inspirata,” The Dark Report interviewed Inspirata CEO Satish Sanan who at that time said the acquisition would allow his company to offer “a fully integrated, end-to-end digital pathology solution” in Canada and Europe. But GE Healthcare chose to end the partnership in 2016, citing regulatory uncertainty and variable global demand. Two years later, GE sold Omnyx to Inspirata.

GE Healthcare’s new collaboration with Tribun Health shows that the company “still recognizes the value of the pathology data in cancer diagnosis and wants to be in a position to manage that digital pathology data,” Michel said.

Fujifilm’s Plans

Fujifilm said it will incorporate Dynamyx into its Synapse Enterprise Imaging suite, which includes VNA, Radiology PACS, and Cardiology PACS. “Future releases of Dynamyx will also create opportunities for Fujifilm to support pharmaceutical and contract research organizations with toxicity testing data management for drug development,” the company stated in the press release.

US-based subsidiary Fujifilm Healthcare Americas Corporation will handle future development of the Dynamyx system. In the US, the system is currently cleared for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use with Leica’s Aperio AT2 DX scanner and Philips’ Ultra Fast Scanner.

With its recent moves into digital pathology, Fujifilm will be taking on major competitors including Philips, Danaher, and Roche, MedTech Dive reported.

Stephen Beale

Related Information:

Fujifilm Announces Asset Purchase Agreement with Inspirata, Inc. to Acquire the Company’s Digital Pathology Business

Fujifilm Agrees to Buy Inspirata’s Dynamyx in Challenge to Philips for Digital Pathology Market

GE Healthcare Announces Collaboration to Advance Digital Transformation of Pathology

Leica, Philips Come Out on Top in Digital Pathology Systems Market, KLAS Finds

GE Healthcare Sells Omnyx to Inspirata

Hackensack Meridian Health and Hologic Tap Google Cloud’s New Medical Imaging Suite for Cancer Diagnostics

Google designed the suite to ease radiologists’ workload and enable easy and secure sharing of critical medical imaging; technology may eventually be adapted to pathologists’ workflow

Clinical laboratory and pathology group leaders know that Google is doing extensive research and development in the field of cancer diagnostics. For several years, the Silicon Valley giant has been focused on digital imaging and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms and machine learning to detect cancer.

Now, Google Cloud has announced it is launching a new medical imaging suite for radiologists that is aimed at making healthcare data for the diagnosis and care of cancer patients more accessible. The new suite “promises to make medical imaging data more interoperable and useful by leveraging artificial intelligence,” according to MedCity News.

In a press release, medical technology company Hologic, and healthcare provider Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey, announced they were the first customers to use Google Cloud’s new suite of medical imaging products.

“Hackensack Meridian Health has begun using it to detect metastasis in prostate cancer patients earlier, and Hologic is using it to strengthen its diagnostic platform that screens women for cervical cancer,” MedCity News reported.

Alissa Hsu Lynch

“Google pioneered the use of AI and computer vision in Google Photos, Google Image Search, and Google Lens, and now we’re making our imaging expertise, tools, and technologies available for healthcare and life sciences enterprises,” said Alissa Hsu Lynch (above), Global Lead of Google Cloud’s MedTech Strategy and Solutions, in a press release. “Our Medical Imaging Suite shows what’s possible when tech and healthcare companies come together.” Clinical laboratory companies may find Google’s Medical Imaging Suite worth investigating. (Photo copyright: Influencive.)

.

Easing the Burden on Radiologists

Clinical laboratory leaders and pathologists know that laboratory data drives most healthcare decision-making. And medical images make up 90% of all healthcare data, noted an article in Proceedings of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

More importantly, medical images are growing in size and complexity. So, radiologists and medical researchers need a way to quickly interpret them and keep up with the increased workload, Google Cloud noted.

“The size and complexity of these images is huge, and, often, images stay sitting in data siloes across an organization,” said Alissa Hsu Lynch, Global Lead, MedTech Strategy and Solutions at Google, told MedCity News. “In order to make imaging data useful for AI, we have to address interoperability and standardization. This suite is designed to help healthcare organizations accelerate the development of AI so that they can enable faster, more accurate diagnosis and ease the burden for radiologists,” she added.

According to the press release, Google Cloud’s Medical Imaging Suite features include:

  • Imaging Storage: Easy and secure data exchange using the international DICOM (digital imaging and communications in medicine) standard for imaging. A fully managed, highly scalable, enterprise-grade development environment that includes automated DICOM de-identification. Seamless cloud data management via a cloud-native enterprise imaging PACS (picture archiving and communication system) in clinical use by radiologists.
  • Imaging Lab: AI-assisted annotation tools that help automate the highly manual and repetitive task of labeling medical images, and Google Cloud native integration with any DICOMweb viewer.
  • Imaging Datasets and Dashboards: Ability to view and search petabytes of imaging data to perform advanced analytics and create training datasets with zero operational overhead.
  • Imaging AI Pipelines: Accelerated development of AI pipelines to build scalable machine learning models, with 80% fewer lines of code required for custom modeling.
  • Imaging Deployment: Flexible options for cloud, on-prem (on-premises software), or edge deployment to allow organizations to meet diverse sovereignty, data security, and privacy requirements—while providing centralized management and policy enforcement with Google Distributed Cloud.

First Customers Deploy Suite

Hackensack Meridian Health hopes Google’s imaging suite will, eventually, enable the healthcare provider to predict factors affecting variance in prostate cancer outcomes.

“We are working toward building AI capabilities that will support image-based clinical diagnosis across a range of imaging and be an integral part of our clinical workflow,” said Sameer Sethi, Senior Vice President and Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Hackensack, in a news release.

The New Jersey healthcare network said in a statement that its work with Google Cloud includes use of AI and machine learning to enable notification of newborn congenital disorders and to predict sepsis risk in real-time.

Hologic, a medical technology company focused on women’s health, said its collaboration integrates Google Cloud AI with the company’s Genius Digital Diagnostics System.

“By complementing our expertise in diagnostics and AI with Google Cloud’s expertise in AI, we’re evolving our market-leading technologies to improve laboratory performance, healthcare provider decision making, and patient care,” said Michael Quick, Vice President of Research and Development and Innovation at Hologic, in the press release.

Hologic says its Genius Digital Diagnostics System combines AI with volumetric medical imaging to find pre-cancerous lesions and cancer cells. From a Pap test digital image, the system narrows “tens of thousands of cells down to an AI-generated gallery of the most diagnostically relevant,” according to the company website.

Hologic plans to work with Google Cloud on storage and “to improve diagnostic accuracy for those cancer images,” Hsu Lynch told MedCity News.

Medical image storage and sharing technologies like Google Cloud’s Medical Imaging Suite provide an opportunity for radiologists, researchers, and others to share critical image studies with anatomic pathologists and physicians providing care to cancer patients.   

One key observation is that the primary function of this service that Google has begun to deploy is to aid in radiology workflow and productivity, and to improve the accuracy of cancer diagnoses by radiologists. Meanwhile, Google continues to employ pathologists within its medical imaging research and development teams.

Assuming that the first radiologists find the Google suite of tools effective in support of patient care, it may not be too long before Google moves to introduce an imaging suite of tools designed to aid the workflow of surgical pathologists as well.

Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Google Cloud Delivers on the Promise of AI and Data Interoperability with New Medical Imaging Suite

Review of Deep Learning in Medical Imaging: Imaging Traits, Technology Trends, Case Studies with Progress Highlights, and Future Promises

Google Cloud Unveils Medical Imaging Suite with Hologic, Hackensack Meridian as First Customers

Google Cloud Medical Imaging Suite and its Deep Insights

Hackensack Meridian Health and Google Expand Relationship to Improve Patient Care

Google Cloud Introduces New AI-Powered Medical Imaging Suite

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