Eindhoven, the Netherlands and Tokyo, Japan – Royal Philips Electronics (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHI) and NEC Corporation (NEC; TSE: 6701) today announced the signing of an agreement under which the two companies will jointly develop and market highly integrated digital pathology solutions. Based around Philips’ new high-throughput pathology slide scanner and NEC’s e-Pathologist Cancer Diagnosis Assistance System, these innovative digital pathology solutions will be designed to use advanced digital techniques to add quantitative analysis to the qualitative information derived from the visual inspection of pathology slides, which is currently the standard procedure. They will initially be targeted to assist in the grading of breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Whenever a lesion is suspected to be cancerous or pre-cancerous, the normal procedure is to remove a sample of tissue from it (a biopsy) and send it to a pathology lab for examination by a pathologist. To conduct this examination, a thin section of the tissue is mounted on a glass slide, stained with chemicals to highlight various structures and visually examined under a microscope. With the increasing incidence of cancer and the growing need for methods of sub-typing the disease in order to deliver optimized therapy, there is a real need for digital pathology systems that speed up the workflow, while also providing pathologists with additional checks to improve diagnostic quality and specificity.
“Reliable computer-aided identification of regions of interest, based on the morphology of potentially cancerous cells in stained tissue samples, clearly depends on having high quality images to work with,” says Tadashi Higashino, Senior Vice President at NEC. “We firmly believe that the continuous auto-focus technology developed by Philips for use in its slide scanners will provide exceptional image detail and quality, allowing our advanced image analysis and machine learning algorithms to achieve optimum results.”
“With its e-Pathology system, NEC already has an impressive position in the digital pathology market in Japan and is well positioned to duplicate that success in many other parts of the world,” says Perry van Rijsingen, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Philips Healthcare Incubator. “I believe our joint development of highly integrated systems that combine superior slide scanning with state-of-the-art image analysis will be essential to unlocking the growth potential of digital pathology by helping to meet the ever-increasing demand for high-volume high-throughput pathology solutions.”
Philips’ ultra-fast slide scanner, which is already commercially available only in Europe for research purposes, employs a unique ‘continuous auto-focus’ technology that accurately follows height variations in the tissue surface over horizontal distances as short as 30 microns, allowing extremely high definition full-slide images to be captured in under one minute per slide.
NEC’s e-Pathologist system will use ‘machine intelligence’ to detect tissue and cell features within these images in order to identify regions of interest and make quantitative measurements of key structures in conventionally stained (Hematoxylin & Eosin) tissue samples, or samples stained with immunohistochemistry reagents. These quantitative measurements could assist pathologists in making decisions relating to the clinical treatment of cancer in individual patients. NEC has jointly evaluated this system with SRL, Inc., the largest laboratory test center in Japan, for biopsy of stomach cancer and has also started marketing a system focused on stomach and breast cancer. In addition, NEC has jointly evaluated its e-Pathologist system with the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in the USA.
“As a leader in medical innovation, Massachusetts General Hospital Pathology has long been committed to utilizing imaging and data analysis for diagnosis and discovery. Digital pathology and diagnostic imaging analysis are obviously important areas of development driving such innovation,” said Dr. David Louis, Chief of Pathology at MGH. “We are pleased to have been involved in the development of the Philips high throughput scanner and the NEC e-Pathologist system and look forward to the next phase of their development."
The digital pathology solution of Philips features an open architecture that allows partners/vendors to expand the system’s capability by integrating their own added-value hardware and/or software algorithms into it. This will allow the creation of total system solutions designed to empower pathologists by delivering increased workflow efficiency, improved diagnostic performance and better patient outcomes. Partnering with Philips, a world leading company in healthcare markets, will therefore help NEC to develop its technology to suit worldwide market requirements.
Philips and NEC aim to produce initial development results from their joint development in digital pathology within the current year.