PictorLabs Reimagines Histopathology with AI, Starting with Cancer
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Los Angeles-based PictorLabs emerged from stealth mode Thursday with $18.8 million to advance its AI-powered virtual staining platform. Researchers hope the technology will “reimagine the future” of histopathology and enable a better understanding of the manifestation of disease.
Co-founders Aydogan Ozcan, Ph.D., UCLA Chancellor’s Professor, and Yair Rivenson, Ph.D., CEO, developed the virtual staining platform while working as researchers at UCLA.
The technology allows them to streamline the process of histopathology, or the study of changes in tissue caused by disease.
Before tissue samples can be inspected under a microscope, they are often doused with a chemical stain, most often the hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) stain. This process of chemical staining is tedious, time-consuming and expensive, as each sample is often stained by hand multiple times before it can be accurately read.
Using technology powered by AI and deep learning algorithms, the PictorLabs team can stain tissues in silico. This allows them to produce an unlimited number of virtual stains from one unstained tissue, as the technology virtually transfers the images of tissue previously stained with H&E into different types of stains.
Simply put, the technology allows researchers to run algorithms that replicate different stains on the tissue without having to physically stain the tissue, rinse it and re-stain it every time. This saves time and resources, as there is no need to perform a second biopsy to get additional tissue, and the chemicals previously used are no longer necessary.
Rivenson told BioSpace that this technology is the first innovation in the field in decades since immunohistochemical staining was first introduced.
It is a “confluence of new algorithms and the availability of data” coupled with the team’s willingness to take on the challenge that has allowed them to get this far, he said.
Rivenson emphasized another benefit of the software.
"A big advantage of our approach is its sustainability,” Rivenson said. “[It uses] less water and less power.”
Chris Wilson, chief business officer at PictorLabs, agreed. He pointed out the irony in using chemicals for staining tissue that is being studied for signs of disease.
“Oddly enough, a lot of the chemicals used in staining are carcinogenic,” Wilson told BioSpace. “There's a bit of an irony that we're helping to get rid of dangerous chemicals that humans are using.”
As for next steps, Wilson said the team plans to move into spatial biology and oncology and use its technology to identify where specific cells are located within a tumor.
He said though they are targeting specific types of cancers, he couldn’t disclose that information at this time.
In the short term, Wilson said the team is focused on growth. The company recently moved into new offices in Los Angeles and is looking for new members.
“We're very much actively hiring,” he said. “What this financing represents is a pathway to revenue…to be able to come out of the gate, secure this financing and have a clear path to generating revenue over the next 12 to 18 months is really special for us.”