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Hungary's digital diagnosis pioneer nominated for "Inventor of the Year" prize

posted 17 May 2011, 10:54 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 17 May 2011, 10:56 ]

Europe's "Inventor of the Year" award is to be announced in Budapest on May 19, in a ceremony recognising the continent's most innovative thinkers. Among the nominees is Hungary's Bela Molnar, whose digital slide invention is helping doctors and their patients around the world.

Inside Semmelweis University's Pathological and Experimental Cancer Research Institute in Budapest, Tibor Krenacs can log onto his computer and, with the click of a mouse, see highly-detailed, microscopic images of tissue samples taken from a patient anywhere in the world. As a scientist whose work involves cancer research, the availability of such digital diagnostic tools is a breakthrough.

Called "virtual microscopy" and marketed as 3DHistech, the technology was invented and developed by the university's Bela Molnar.

"Here we have a digital copy of the slide which can be evaluated very fast, which can be also quantified, annotated, which can be edited and also inserted into the digital workflow of the clinics but also distributed very fast, if you need a special consultance but further if you want to measure on that you can also do, and it's very important for the fast and reliable and more robust diagnostics." Molnar said.

Molnar equates the technology with the principles of digital photography. The digital slide scanner loads the tissue sample slide, identifies it, then in high resolution 0.25 micrometer per pixel, takes thousands of high resolution pictures to scan the entire specimen. The images are then amalgamated by an image processing algorithm. An average sample can be scanned in 3-4 minutes. The sample is then stored on a digital slide, which can then be scanned an analysed by a software programme.

In Tibor Krenacs' department - Hungary's largest pathology centre - diagnosis, research and teaching is now done using only 3DHistech technology. Conventional optical microscopes are no longer used.

"It can revolutionize morphological disciplines particularly pathology. And in pathology the sophistication is increasing so we have more and more techniques to be used for diagnosing samples and we have less and less, or at least the same number of pathologists who need to fight with this burden. So if we share expertise so you can access in the big diagnostic centres the experts and their knowledge it makes our lives much more easy and not only in diagnostics but research," said Krenacs.

The digital slides created by Molnar's invention not only equip doctors with valuable information about their patients. Like a digital photograph, they can also be easily shared to link doctors with specialists around the world who have treated similar illnesses and can study the same tissue section in real-time.

Analysing samples havs thus become faster, more affordable and, due to the nature of digital information, easily retrievable from anywhere in the world.

Molnar says that the virtual microscopy opens a new world in tissue-based diagnosis and presents a change of paradigm similar to the shift from typewriters to computers.

"I can compare this shift like a typewriter and an editing software, a word. With the typewriter you have also done your work, slowly and it was very tiring, and you had always one copy or two copies of your work," Molnar said.

Molnar is the first Hungarian to be nominated for the European "Inventor of the Year" award. He received the prestigious Hungarian Grand Prize for Innovation award in 2004 for his work in virtual microscopy and digital histology. Since then, 3DHistech has become a globally recognised name. The company has sold more than 500 virtual microscopy products and boasts the second largest market share in the world.

Molnar achieved this while still working as a physician and leading the Cell Analysis Lab, where he's involved in colon cancer research at Semmelweis University.