See Inside May 2010

A Better Lens on Disease

Computerized pathology slides may help doctors make faster and more accurate diagnoses

In the late 1990s Dirk G. Soenksen imagined a new future for pathology. At the time, pathologists often sat on telephone books to get a good view through their microscopes, yet Soenksen’s children viewed high-resolution monitors when merely playing Nintendo. “Why can’t microscopists look at computer monitors, too?” he wondered.

That question sent Soenksen on an extended journey, beginning in his garage. After 18 months of intense laboring, he emerged as the head of a newly created digital-pathology company called Aperio, which he now runs in Vista, Calif. Beyond merely moving images of diseased tissues from microscopes to computers, his technology—as well as that of other start-ups and even established health care companies—promises to make anatomical pathology, which involves the interpretation of biopsies, far more quantitative. This advance should, in turn, enhance the accuracy of diagnosing diseases and help physicians track the effectiveness of a treatment so that any needed changes can be made promptly.

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