Hillel's Tech Corner: AI meets telescopy at Scopio Labs

Scopio Labs, a Tel Aviv-based start-up, is changing the field of microscopy as we know it through its machine learning-based digital microscopy system.

Telescopy meets AI (photo credit: Courtesy)
Telescopy meets AI
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It takes much more than an apple a day to keep the doctor away. These days, many of us are turning to tech to monitor and tend to our own health, thereby lessening the need for frequent visits to the doctor for regular checkups.
At any given time, you see people keeping track of their own health and wellness using a blend of different technologies, such as smart watches, smart thermometers, and remote monitoring tools. Several people in my immediate circles make use of electronic medical records and tele-medicine. Med tech has come a long way in recent years, offering convenience to healthcare providers and patients alike with great speed and efficiency, thanks to machine learning and artificial-intelligence technologies.
However, while AI solutions are becoming increasingly mainstream in healthcare, what if I told you that one of medicine’s cornerstones still relies on manual and analog processes, including the human eye, to diagnose the world’s most serious illnesses, including all types of cancers?
Now think back to sixth grade science class, when you visited the school’s lab to look at slides of cells under a microscope. First, you had to choose between three levels of resolution. Then, you moved the slide tray back and forth to look at all parts of the image.
Okay, are you ready? This exact approach still serves as a foundation for diagnosis and testing across fields as varied as healthcare and agriculture. Yes, despite all the advancements in medical technology, most microscopes in diagnostic labs today are manual. In fact, many pathologists and technicians are left physically counting different types of cells on slides with a mechanical handheld counter.
I don’t need to tell you that the manual nature of all this increases the potential for human error and delays diagnostic results with inefficient procedures. Also, since the images are not digitized, important information is inaccessible to those outside of the physical lab. It could even get lost, or mishandled.
Granted, some advancement has taken place in microscopy, but initial attempts have been limited and expensive, hindering further progress in the field.
The good news is that Scopio Labs, a Tel Aviv-based start-up, is changing the field of microscopy as we know it through its machine learning-based digital microscopy system. The company is bringing its proprietary digital innovations into the laboratory with products and platforms that improve standard processes to reduce human error, improve accuracy and increase efficiency.
Before we get into what this all means, let’s examine the company behind this innovation. First, the founders: Itai Hayut and Erez Na’aman.
Hayut is the classic Israeli innovator. He has an extensive educational background that makes you wonder how he’s not 75 years old.
NA’AMAN IS former VP of engineering and business development at OrCam. He brings an understanding of the US market, as well as a strong physics background in his own right. These two founders brought on a team of 30 technologists and business development specialists in the company’s Tel Aviv and New Jersey headquarters.
Scopio Labs’ investor base includes digital health venture fund Olive Tree Ventures, OurCrowd, LR Group, and fund Aurum Ventures. Scopio also received a grant from the European Union. The company just announced a $16 million Series B round (during the COVID-19 period!) and has received total funding of $30m. to date.
Their product is market ready and integrates with existing products to help labs of all sizes embrace digital innovation. That’s an important factor, because remember: Labs have been doing microscopy the same way for decades, so innovative solutions are not necessarily accepted so easily. If technology integrates with what  people are used to, it helps.
One of the tech specs that makes Scopio’s offerings unique is its use of advanced computational photography techniques to reconstruct images with uniquely high-resolution and quality images. They also have built-in automated AI tools that reduce manual labor with rapid scanning of full-slide images, digitize slides and develop a comprehensive report of the results. Additionally, their remote collaboration tools enable clinicians to share high-res scans with experts around the world for analysis.
Scopio Labs started gaining market traction with the launch of ScopioVet, an end-to-end digital cytology solution for veterinarians.
The company also has CE Mark certification for its X100 Full-Field PBS, an all-in-one automated hematology diagnostic platform and its recent funding will be used to expand Scopio’s commercial rollout in the United States and Europe. The company is currently completing a multi-center study in preparation of the all-important FDA submission.
Co-founded in 2015, the company is now focusing its efforts on helping the healthcare system diagnose disease. But there are several other important areas that Scopio can impact as well.
One of those is veterinary medicine. Imagine you’re a dog-owner and it’s clear that your beloved Rex hasn’t been himself lately. Well, today you go to the vet, have some blood samples taken, and then it’s a waiting game – up to several days – because the veterinary clinic must first send those samples to an external lab. Once the vet has feedback from the lab, they will call you back in for a second visit to discuss course of action. Meanwhile, Rex is sitting around, waiting for help.
What Scopio has done, thanks to the digitization of images, is create a system for uploading samples to a network of hundreds of pathologists who are on-call. These specialists can analyze the slides remotely and provide reliable feedback to the vet within an hour. That way, you and Rex can go home with clarity on what next steps you should take.
I know. It sounds simple, but this is light-years ahead of what the status quo has been.
Microscopy and blood-sample analysis is such a fundamental pillar in diagnosing disease. Yet in the age of automation and digitization, manual microscopes and handheld counters are the norm. However, innovation can only be held back for so long. And Scopio Labs is helping improve clinical work flows, both in terms of time frame and quality of data, by creating a digital solution for microscopy.
If work flows are improved, it will only help patient outcomes, which, as we all know, should be the goal of any health-tech innovation. It’s high time for such a technology to become widely adopted throughout the healthcare system.