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10/27/2010
05:19 PM
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GE, UPMC Announce Digital Pathology Breakthrough

Testing of a digital pathology system that could speed up patient diagnoses developed by a GE and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center joint venture, has begun.

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If you’re a patient who’s undergone a biopsy, the wait for a diagnosis or a second opinion can be excruciating. However, the practice of pathology soon could be taking a giant leap forward. And that would mean a lot less anxiety for millions of patients each year who worry that they have cancer or another serious disease.

Omnyx, a joint-venture launched in 2008 by GE and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, has started to ship for testing by several leading medical institutions in the U.S. and Canada, new integrated digital pathology technology that boosts collaboration between clinicians and reduces turnaround times for patient tests.

GE and UPMC heralded the Omnyx announcement as a "breakthrough" that will help revolutionize the 125-year practice of pathologists viewing glass slides under a microscope.

Traditional pathology processes also involve a lot of waiting time for pathologists as slides are shipped, stacked and inventoried for initial viewing or consultation. Meanwhile, for patients the wait for a diagnosis or second opinion can take days or weeks.

The new Omnyx offering utilizes dual-camera scanning technology developed by GE scientists, enabling glass pathology slides to be digitized at a fast speed -- currently at a speed of about 1 minute per 15mm-by-15 mm slide at 20X magnification -- without loss of optical quality.

Besides the scanners, included in offering is digital imaging and workflow software that helps facilitate in the collaboration among pathologists and automates paper-based processes, said Tony Melanson, Omnyx's VP of strategy.

"There are a lot of factors in the speed of diagnoses," said Melanson. By digitizing pathology slides and enabling the images to be shared in real-time, much of that waiting time by clinicians and especially patients can be dramatically reduced.

The system allows pathologists to collaborate on patient cases with a click of a button, allowing for real-time consultations and helping to speed up diagnoses, he said.

Another advantage of digitized pathology images is that they can be made part of patient’s electronic medical records, which also helps to make biopsy and diagnosis information more easily shared among clinicians.

Omnyx’s technology will be installed and tested by three medical institutions in the U.S. -- including UPMC, Montefiore Medical Center in New York, Stanford University Medical Center in California, and University Health Network in Toronto.

Pathologists at those medical centers will be providing feedback to Omnyx as well as collecting data to submit to the FDA. "No product has been commercialized yet, but it’ll ship for research use early next year," Melanson said.

While digital pathology products have been available for several years by a handful of smaller vendors, many of those systems are used in niche applications such as education and second consultations. Among digital pathology vendors is Aperio, which says it has several hundred installations worldwide.

From a competitive standpoint, one advantage that Omnyx has is that it’s backed by a couple of big names in healthcare both on the product and clinical side--with GE and UPMC investing a total of $40 million in Omnyx to date. GE Healthcare also has deep roots in thousands of large healthcare organizations that use the company’s broad range of products, from radiology to e-health record systems.

The digital pathology market is expected to grow to $2 billion over the next few years.

In the meantime, for millions of patients each year anxious to hear a "negative" diagnosis for their cancer tests and other biopsies, the move to faster pathology methods probably can’t happen soon enough.

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