A piece today in the New York Times spotlights the work of Stanford microbiologist Christopher Contag, PhD. Contag and colleagues are developing new imaging technologies and a specialized technique to enable pathologists to detect the early stages of cancer without a biopsy.
John Markoff writes:
Frustrated by the time between when a tissue sample is taken and when a pathology laboratory can examine it, Dr. Contag, who oversees a molecular imaging laboratory at Stanford, is experimenting with a variety of next-generation endoscopes. The new devices not only portray the surface of the skin, but also use a variety of optical and acoustical techniques to virtually “punch holes” in hundreds of cells deep within the human body, while using contrast agents to identify abnormalities.
He describes the approach as “point-of-care pathology,” part of a convergence of medical technologies that make it increasingly possible for surgeons and medical technicians to make informed, on-the-spot decisions about patient care.
Dr. Contag said he faces challenges, especially from the medical community, which still has to be convinced that computerized images can equal the precision of laboratory practices in which a pathologist conducts a range of tests to determine whether a specimen has healthy or diseased tissue. But that may change soon. Dr. Contag is pursuing a new generation of molecular biomarkers that can be injected and then attach to lesions, giving doctors a direct answer about disease on a cell-by-cell basis.
“You don’t need machine learning, you don’t need machine vision,” he said. On a computer screen he showed an image of a digital sample, with areas that were distinctively brighter. “That’s cancer; that’s normal,” he said, pointing to the dark and light sections.