An interview on digital pathology & the idea behind augmented reality microscopy.
Tell us a little bit about your background, and how it played a role in founding Augmentiqs.
I am extremely fortunate to having been raised in a family with two entrepreneurial parents, so the idea of starting a new company is very natural to me. In addition, I began my professional career assisting startups in multiple capacities, which gave me many of the tools needed to move forward with the concept for Augmentiqs.
Why did you decide to take a different approach to digital pathology?
Prior to founding Augmentiqs I worked in the marketing department of a digital pathology company, and it was there that I was exposed to the whole slide scanning technologies. Holding a marketing position, I was interested in researching the field and hearing feedback from pathologists to better understand what they were looking for in digital pathology.
What I saw was that every vendor was taking the proverbial elephant rifle for a mosquito approach with WSI, while in the field, pathologists were telling me that they had no need for the scanning technology. Some of these comments included, “In 90% of instances I don’t need you, and in 10% I don’t trust you,” and “Why do I need to save an image of cardiac plaque?”
What I understood is that while pathologists wanted to be able to use digital pathology applications, they just didn’t want it to take a long time, or be too expensive. And of course, many pathologists insisted that the microscope was better than the screen. Combined with FDA’s requirement for glass-based primary diagnosis, that was the trigger for this concept of augmented reality microscopy.
You saw that there was a problem in the in the industry, but there probably could have been a lot of ways to solve it. What inspired you to choose the augmented reality as a solution?
When the concept of Augmented Reality Microscopy (now ARM) first came up around 2015, the FDA still required glass-based diagnosis. Since pathology started, pathologists have been looking through a microscope and it’s considered the gold standard. Before the eventual FDA approval was reached for the first WSI systems, there was a major problem with getting these technologies into labs, because they still had to use the microscope. That is why we introduced the solution of the augmented reality. We aimed to give the best of both worlds, where pathologists are still looking through their microscope eyepiece and, at the same time, are able to cost-effectively deploy any type of digital pathology solution to reach a more objective diagnosis.
Moreover, there is a financial benefit. For example, in the US there is CMS which provides a higher reimbursement for pathology diagnosis with computer-assisted diagnosis. By integrating image analysis and AI with a relatively low-cost augmented reality microscope, the idea was that pathologists can actually reach a positive return on investment very quickly.
Can you tell more about the team?
OK, I was fortunate and had an idea, but it’s really all about our engineers. Our scientific director was among the youngest people ever to earn his PhD degree in Electro Optic Engineering from one of the world’s most respected schools of engineering. And on the software side, we have absolutely brilliant engineers. So we’re a small team, which actually helps us work faster.
Did you ever feel like that the lack of professional medical education was a challenge and if so, how did you overcome it?
Well, yes. Many-many times in my life.
But at this point in my life, I am I’m just thrilled that I don’t have a background in medicine, because it really allowed me to be able to take this different approach. In every industry it’s very common to have “groupthink”, so it’s really nice, I think, to come from outside and to be able to take a fresh look at a system. I believe that partially thanks to my lack of medical background, Augmentiqs was brought about.
We created a new-old way to solve digital pathology. To use the microscope that’s pretty old, but to use it for digital pathology is really innovative.
Gabe Siegel – CEO
The idea behind ARM is simple. All the benefits of digital pathology from directly within the pathologist’s existing microscope, while maintaining all the optical qualities of the microscope.