Digital technology may make microscopes obsolete
Over and above its ability to detect cell types, the programme was useful because of its ability to store and share images. From 2010, with the help of Professor Didier Cataldo, co-director of the laboratory of Tumor & Development Biology at the University of Liège, the Cytomine platform was in the process of development at GIGA. Its early successes allowed it to go from 5 users then to over 100 today, coming from the CHU and from the university at large. “We have opened up a similar service for students in histology,” Stévens said. “There are more medical students every year, and the faculty has to confront new problems of organization, especially where laboratory practice is concerned. Ideally, we need one microscope for each student, which is a great expense. Then, every student needs a slide for every exercise. We can’t repeat the same samples, and some are not as good as others. Getting good quality slides can quickly become a matter of difficulty. In addition, with the microscope the professor does not see what the student sees. Sometimes students miss questions because they did not observe closely enough. For so many students, microscopes are not very practical.”
In the emergency room
Outside of research and teaching, Cytomine could be valuable in a crucial setting, the clinical one: “This is an area where the replacement of microscopes is a controversial subject all by itself,” the researchers say. “Pathologists have to accept the technology. The diagnosis they produce based on an image has to be as good or better than the diagnosis based on something actually seen through a microscope.” There are three areas of potential difference. First, the possibility that digital compression of the image has altered it; next, the resistance of human experts to this technological change; finally, the eyes have it, because the field of vision presented on a flat screen is always smaller than the field of vision the eyes see through the microscope, including everything the eyes see, so that one can see right down into cells.