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1 sample examined by 1,000 pathologists -- how and why?

This week, more than eight hundred pathologists from around Europe and the world will take part in a first of its kind, large-scale virtual microscopy slide seminar on the web. The seminar is arranged by the Biomedical Informatics Research Group from the University of Helsinki in conjunction with the 21st European Congress of Pathology, which will be held in Istanbul, Turkey.

To our knowledge this is the first time the complete microscopy slide set of a major international pathology conference has been digitized and made viewable on the web for the participants, and is as such a milestone in virtual microscopy and pathology, says Mikael Lundin, M.D., who is responsible for the technical development within the project called WebMicroscope.

Each of the participating pathologists can review the microscopy samples beforehand and some of the cases are so rare that they have been assembled into a special collection entitled Once in a Pathologists Lifetime. During the congress in Istanbul the cases will be discussed, and diagnoses and consensus statements will be published on the website after the congress. The entire slide set will then be open for public use without password restrictions, to act as a case archive and educational tool.

The original samples reside on ordinary sized microscopy glass slides, but a single virtual slide digitized at a thousand fold magnification can contain more than 60 gigabyte of data. In all, 160 specimens have been digitized for the purpose of the congress and sum up to more than 5 terabytes. Due to highly efficient compression techniques and a viewing system adopted from the satellite imaging industry, this amount of data is possible to handle. Viewing of the samples very much resembles the use of Google Earth and puts only modest requirements on the pathologists computer says Dr. Lundin.

All virtual slides have been copied to five mirror servers around Europe, allowing pathologists to view the samples from the server with the best connection speed. The network of servers also marks the foundation of a novel European Virtual Microscopy Network, Dr. Lundin says. In the first phase, as part of a multicenter scientific study, mirror servers in Finland, Sweden, Poland, Spain and Holland will be used. By joining the network a department can ensure an excellent connection speed and access to common educational material within the pathology community of Europe.


Contact: Johan Lundin, M.D., Ph.D.
University of Helsinki

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