ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Some 6,000 researchers in 123 countries have so far accessed microscopic images of COVID-19-infected tissue through a new online repository powered by Albuquerque-based Indica Labs Inc.
The COVID Digital Pathology Repository, financed and hosted by the National Institutes of Health, went live in April in a joint effort by Indica Labs and Virginia-based IT firm Octo.
Indica used its premier HALO software pathology platform to upload microscopic images of infected tissue from around the world to the repository, while Octo created a web portal to enable secure, online access across the globe.
Indica’s software allows scientists to not only view hard-to-get infected tissue samples, but to use software-imbedded algorithms and artificial intelligence to conduct computational analysis of images, annotate them, and add more slides to the repository for use by researchers worldwide.
“It’s a cloud-based repository of autopsy tissues and biopsies from coronavirus victims,” said Indica CEO Steven Hashagen. “The uploaded images come from hospitals, government agencies and autopsy sites worldwide. It gives the global scientific community instantaneous access for educational and research purposes.”
That’s critical to better understand, diagnose and eventually treat the virus.
“A lot of information can be gleaned from these tissue samples, but during the pandemic, it’s been very difficult for autopsy facilities to handle all the cases, with victims either being buried immediately or cremated,” Hashagen said. “Whatever tissue samples are available are very valuable.”
The repository includes images of lung, liver, kidney and heart tissue from COVID-19 patients.
Susan Gregurick, NIH associate director for data science and director of the Office of Data Science Strategy, said such image access and analysis is essential for defeating the coronavirus.
“To better understand the ravaging effects of COVID-19 on the human body and to make progress in alleviating those effects, researchers need to have timely access to clinical and imaging data,” Gregurick said in a statement. “The … repository is a significant step in this direction.”
Digital pathology is widespread today in the medical industry. Many studies show diagnostic results from virtual slides are equivalent to direct tissue analysis under a microscope, Hashagen said. And given the work, travel and gathering restrictions in the pandemic, many researchers depend on online access.
“Many are now working from home and signing out cases remotely,” Hashagen said. “They access needed data online rather than in the lab.”
Given the demand for such tools, Indica’s business has grown rapidly. It currently serves more than 600 customers globally, including the world’s top 20 pharmaceutical companies, and has offices in four other countries.
Its local headquarters moved last year from a 3,000-square-foot office in Corrales to a 14,000-square-foot facility in northwest Albuquerque, boosted by $600,000 in state Local Economic Development Act funding. Indica now employs 60 people, the majority of them computer scientists in New Mexico.