It’s time to expand the horizons of microscopy, according to Israeli startup Augmentiqs, as the instruments — used for seeing small objects invisible to the naked eye — have remained essentially unchanged since their invention some 400 years ago.
It’s still an “analog box that uses glass and light,” said Gabe Siegel, a co-founder of the startup, said of the venerable device.
Similarly, the workflow for those who rely on microscopes, such as pathologists and lab assistants, has also seen very limited change, Siegel said. Tissue specimens and glass slides are prepared in labs and sent to pathology offices for examination under a microscope, followed by a written or dictated pathology report.
“The microscope is found on every pathologist’s desk, and still holds many advantages for pathology diagnosis, yet it is in essence a silo, disconnected from the digital health revolution,” Siegel said. Unlike other laboratory tests that deliver quantitative results, pathology is “subject to interpretation and therefore remains the most subjective science.”
The analog microscope is “lacking in modern innovation” to meet the needs of an increasingly burdened, cost-conscious and digital healthcare system, he added.
The updated version developed by Augmentiqs, a startup founded in 2016, is an electro-optic device combining software and hardware that integrates within existing microscopes, connecting them to a PC and transforming them into smart and connected instruments.
Siegel spoke to The Times of Israel at the HealthIL conference and exhibition on digital health held in Tel Aviv last week, where he was displaying his product.
A small black box, the brain with the software, can be screwed onto any microscope, allowing pathologists to bring digital features to their analog microscope.
“We allow pathologists to have their microscope and a computer in a single device,” Siegel said. “We provide digital capabilities from within the microscope.”
So, while looking at a slide through the microscope, pathologists can, at the same time — through the augmented reality provided by Augmentiqs — view a digital overlay with which they can interact using a mouse.
The augmented reality enables pathologists to make annotations, take measurements, or utilize image processing algorithms and artificial intelligence without removing their eyes from the microscope. With the click of a mouse, they can share images with colleagues by text message or email.
“Real-time telepathology can assist pathologists in reaching a faster and more accurate diagnosis,” said Siegel. “A pathologist located outside the hospital can view a live image of the specimen on their computer screen, and then point out important features with their mouse which appear immediately as augmented reality within the microscope eyepiece.”
This helps make pathologists’ work more transparent.
“Pathology is a very subjective science,” said Siegel. “Today, pathologists analyze and interpret what they see on the microscope, yet there is no way of knowing what led the pathologist to reach a certain decision.
“Augmentiqs can remove some of this subjectivity by photographing the sample viewed by the pathologist while at the same time tracking the movement of the slide… This record of the pathology diagnosis enables other pathologists to go back and analyze the exact areas of the slide that the first pathologist viewed… We can direct pathologists to specific areas of the slide by projecting directions inside the microscope eyepiece.”
The Misgav-based Augmentiqs, founded in 2016, is already selling to hospitals, pharmaceutical developers, and contract research organizations in the US, Europe and Asia. Clients include Charles River Laboratories Inc., which provides pre-clinical lab services to pharma and medical device firms; ARUP Laboratories, a large reference lab providing pathology testing services; and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, said Siegel.
“We have reached early sales to pathologists,” he said. “The goal is to eventually be found on every microscope.”
The startup, which has raised $400,000 to date and employs six workers, five of them freelancers, donated a system to a hospital in Tanzania in collaboration with a North Carolina pathologist. The system will be used for telepathology — the long-distance practice of pathology — and for developing AI algorithms to assist the Tanzanian pathologists, Siegel said.
The Augmentiqs microscope was recently used in a pre-clinical study in a lab in North Carolina where artificial intelligence was utilized inside the microscope — a “world’s first,” said Siegel, and the results were displayed as augmented reality.