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Stanford professor’s “virtual” pathology constructs 3-D images of disease

Pathologists have long had to deal with the wait between sample extraction and return of test results, but thanks to research done by medical school microbiology professor Christopher Contag, tools now exist to look below the surface of the skin, increasing the speed of and better informing medical diagnoses for many diseases, including cancer.

In an interview with The New York Times, Contag called the process, which uses new technology to construct three-dimensional images hundreds of cells deep, “point of care pathology.” Using the technology he has developed at Stanford, doctors will be able to make informed decisions without sending samples to pathology labs and having to wait for results to come back.

Seeing images, however, is not the same as running tests in a lab like in conventional pathology, which is why Contag’s “virtual” pathology is not commonly accepted as standard medical practice in the medical community. Looking forward, Contag hopes to design new molecular biomarkers that can be injected and attached to cancer and lesions so surgeons have definitive evidence of disease.

These advancements in the field of imaging, which have the potential to not only increase the speed of pathological diagnoses, but also to make tests less expensive, have the potential to reduce barriers to quality medical care.

– Edward Ngai