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The use of digital images in pathology

P N Furness 1 
  • PMID: 9422979
  •     14 citations


Digital images are routinely used by the publishing industry, but most diagnostic pathologists are unfamiliar with the technology and its possibilities. This review aims to explain the basic principles of digital image acquisition, storage, manipulation and use, and the possibilities provided not only in research, but also in teaching and in routine diagnostic pathology. Images of natural objects are usually expressed digitally as 'bitmaps'--rectilinear arrays of small dots. The size of each dot can vary, but so can its information content in terms, for example, of colour, greyscale or opacity. Various file formats and compression algorithms are available. Video cameras connected to microscopes are familiar to most pathologists; video images can be converted directly to a digital form by a suitably equipped computer. Digital cameras and scanners are alternative acquisition tools of relevance to pathologists. Once acquired, a digital image can easily be subjected to the digital equivalent of any conventional darkroom manipulation and modern software allows much more flexibility, to such an extent that a new tool for scientific fraud has been created. For research, image enhancement and analysis is an increasingly powerful and affordable tool. Morphometric measurements are, after many predictions, at last beginning to be part of the toolkit of the diagnostic pathologist. In teaching, the potential to create dramatic yet informative presentations is demonstrated daily by the publishing industry; such methods are readily applicable to the classroom. The combination of digital images and the Internet raises many possibilities; for example, instead of seeking one expert diagnostic opinion, one could simultaneously seek the opinion of many, all around the globe. It is inevitable that in the coming years the use of digital images will spread from the laboratory to the medical curriculum and to the whole of diagnostic pathology.

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