Not under the microscope: Scopio Labs transforms blood tests

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The phrase “under a microscope” means something (or someone) is being studied very closely, but the Israeli medtech startup Scopio Laboratorieswhose very name derives from the Latin (and ancient Greek) word meaning “to look at” or “to examine”, seeks to make microscopes obsolete, at least those used in blood collection laboratories.

Founded in 2015, Scopio’s origin story began when co-founders Itai Hayut (who is CEO) and Erez Naaman (CTO), who both come from a background in physics and electro-optics, studied together at the Department of Applied Physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Hayut sat down with CTech for an exclusive interview and took the story from there.

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Itai Hayut - Scopio Labs

Itai Hayut – CEO and Co-Founder, Scopio Labs

(Scopio Laboratories)

“About eight years ago, there was a lot of hype around the new possibilities surrounding deep learning and computer vision and how they could be used to analyze image data. We were excited about the potential to harness these capabilities to create a great product and we knew we wanted to focus on the world of healthcare because we saw a significant opportunity there.

The turning point came when the couple visited a hematology lab where they saw lab techs using microscopes and counting cells manually. “Manually counting cells is something that I strongly believe 21st century professionals should no longer have to do,” Hayut said firmly. “When you manually count cells, or anything else for that matter, mistakes can be made. Moreover, it takes a lot of time. It’s not just a problem in hematology labs in Israel, but all over the world.

The next step for the duo was to purchase a scanner capable of digitizing the glass slides, turning them into digital files, and applying deep learning and computer vision tools to analyze them. “We quickly discovered that there was no platform or technology that could scan and digitize slides quickly and with high enough resolution for us to apply these innovative tools on top,” said Hayut.

“I think the coincidence here is that solving this problem was very deep in our professional background: optics, computational photography, etc. So, yes, we ended up solving a different problem than what we had anticipated at the time. origin, just to allow us to solve what we really wanted. Sometimes in life, to solve a problem, you have to build the solution yourself. So for us, it was a perfect storm – but in a positive way.

You mentioned “digital photography”, what role does that play?

“We looked into the problem and tried to understand why there were no scanners capable of digitizing these microscopy samples. In hematology, you need the highest possible resolution in light microscopy. For example, if for tissues we use 20X subject magnification, in blood you need a much higher resolution because you want to look into the cells to see the small details that affect health. 100X is the highest magnification you can achieve with visible light and is what you use in hematology labs. Hematology labs are the most challenging types of labs in terms of the magnification needed to examine specimens. The problem is that when you want very high resolution in microscopy, you have to use an objective with a small field of view. It gives you high resolution, but in a very small part of the sample.

“We discovered that the way to solve the problem was to use a completely different data collection method. others have allowed us to process the data and create the image quickly and in a beautiful quality and in a cost-effective way.It also allows us to work in 100X resolution.In summary, at Scopio, we have succeeded in breaking the compromise between ‘ field of view’ (area) and ‘This is technology that you simply could not have developed 10 years ago.

What are the main advantages of the Scopio solution?

“It’s important to emphasize that our product is not just a scanner, we provide a complete workflow solution. Digitization in itself has no intrinsic value. If someone is using our platform and looking at the images on a computer screen but still insists on counting the cells manually through a microscope with a clicker, we really haven’t done anything at all for the lab technicians. Our solution not only digitizes the image, but it is complete. It solves a problem for the user in two main ways: firstly, it allows him to do his work remotely, so that the expert and the blood sample do not need to be physically in the same place – which has major advantages both in terms of level of expertise, level of care, not to mention efficiency. This is what I like to call a “democratization of expertise”, it levels the playing field so that everyone can have the best experts who analyze samples and thus receive the best possible care anywhere in the world. And the second benefit is that we’re actually using AI and computer vision, as we originally intended, to count cells, classify them, and act as a decision support system, which provides results more consistent than before.

To cope without a microscope

When asked if Scopio’s technology would make the use of microscopes in hematology labs obsolete, Hayut was adamant.

“Our ultimate goal, through our applications, some of which are still in the works, including a bone marrow application, is to completely replace all microscopy work in hematology labs with fully digital work powered by AI. It’s the future.”

So you’re looking to replace microscopes in blood labs, but what about the real workers? Would you say your technology is diagnostic or do the medical experts make the final decision?

“I want this point to be very clear. We’re not completely replacing the human in the loop, we’re just augmenting their capabilities as experts to do their jobs much more efficiently – including remotely – consistently and effectively. We provide the digital scanner in a sort of Google Maps-like interface where lab technicians and healthcare professionals can zoom in and out of the blood sample file. We also use AI to propose the classification of cells and present them to the user, who can, if desired, correct what the AI ​​has proposed. It is therefore the user (the laboratory technician or the doctor) who has the ultimate control. Computers do amazing things, but looking at the big picture, we still need the human factor to decide the medical course of action.”

Scopio Labs has grown significantly since its inception in 2015 and now has over 100 employees, the vast majority of whom work from its Tel Aviv-based headquarters, as well as a commercial presence in the United States and Europe. The company has raised $85 million to date, most of which, $50 million, after participating in a Series C round last February.

Hayut told CTech that Scopio Labs’ FDA-cleared, CE-marked full-field peripheral blood smear application is in full commercial use in the United States and Europe. “There are some 120,000 hematology labs around the world,” says Hayut. “These are the laboratories that provide blood tests. Any hematology laboratory in the world is a potential customer for our products.

How has Scopio Labs been affected by the global pandemic?

“In terms of our technology and our market, there are two important things that have kept us going during the pandemic. First, a general global understanding that health care is essential and has a direct impact on the global economy. As a member of the human race, we must dedicate resources and advance medical diagnostics and technologies to not only save lives, but to enable the economy and everyday life as we know it to continue. and prosper. So, thanks to the pandemic, the world has recognized the need for health solutions.

“The second thing that’s happened is that telehealth, the ability for someone to do their healthcare work remotely, has become crucial during the pandemic and emerging. The understanding that the healthcare provider does not need to be in the same physical location as the patient is directly related to what we at Scopio Labs are doing with our remote solutions. is not just remote work, but a service provided from home and in some locations even on weekends, holidays and after hours All this also allows for expedited 24 hour support and 7 days a week Due to health concerns during the pandemic, blood labs and medical centers not only recommended remote patient care, but demanded it, and our system was more than ready and able to respond. to this need.

Since Scopio Labs deals with blood tests, what do you think of the Theranos case?

“While the Theranos issue has been bad for the industry in general, I think it has created a higher bar of trust that a company needs to generate, especially in this area of ​​blood testing. I’m very proud the work our company does and the trust we’ve built with the FDA. The only benefit I can think of from the Theranos story is that it brought the market opportunity in diagnostics to the forefront – but you have to do it right.That means building trust and working with regulators, making sure you’re on the right track when it comes to the safety and quality of your product.

As an Israeli medtech startup, how do you see Israel’s role in the global medtech field?

“Israel has long been a leader in the field of medical devices, especially in imaging, but lately I have just seen an explosion of creativity and leadership not only in imaging, but also in image analysis. medical. When you look at the fields of radiology, pathology, and obviously hematology, I think Israel is really taking the lead, especially when it comes to applying AI to imaging modalities and pushing the domain. There are great Israeli companies in the field of medtech diagnostics and we are very proud to be part of this group.

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