Editorial Feature

Meet the Robot Histotechnician Speeding Up Tissue Processing

A start-up robotics company based in New York, US, recently announced the end of its Series B investment round with an extra $16 million of funding to bring total investment up to $39 million. The company is manufacturing an innovative “histotechnician” robot to revolutionize lab methods.

Meet the Robot Histotechnician Speeding Up Tissue Processing

Image Credit: Choksawatdikorn/Shutterstock.com

The company’s innovation introduces automation to histology by processing tissues into glass slides (sectioning) with a robotic device. The firm says its product can solve lab bottlenecks that have been recently worsened by COVID-19 and a shortage of skilled workers.

Introducing “SectionStar”: Clarapath’s Histotechnician

The robotic instrument, dubbed “SectionStar,” is a fully autonomous system that makes pathology lab operations much more reliable and efficient. It does this by standardizing the quality of tissue sections, which is an essential step toward molecular mapping of human diseases – not to mention developing new treatment pathways.

Currently, sectioning is an entirely manual, tedious process that cannot be easily scaled to perform large batch processing tasks. Furthermore, the number of people who are suitably trained and available to carry out this work is dwindling.

COVID-19 worsened this problem by exacerbating the skills gap as trained technicians left the workforce. The global pandemic is also still causing unacceptable delays in biopsy results, which in turn is driving up healthcare costs worldwide.

Being a manual process, AI-driven algorithms for interpretation of human tissues – particularly cancer – when examined on a cellular level are vulnerable to the variability in the quality of those tissue cross sections.

Eric Feinstein, CEO of Clarapath

The SectionStar consolidates manual cutting, decision making, and quality control steps into one device, leading to higher quality tissue sections, shorter lead times, and lower overall costs. At the same time, the data sets captured from these tissue specimens are richer and deliver more information than manually sectioned samples.

The device was developed to meet a critical and unmet need in the laboratory instrumentation sector for faster and more accurate diagnostic tools. Clarapath says it has solved this problem with the SectionStar, which the technology company claims vastly expands the current capacity of histology labs worldwide.

It also prepares the ground for more automated and artificial intelligence (AI) driven diagnostic methods in the future.

Clarapath’s pathology and laboratory medicine expert, James Crawford, MD, Ph.D., said:

This not only vastly expands the capacity of our histology labs, but vaults histology into the realm of reproducibility and quality required for AI-driven diagnosis of disease and the development of molecular morphology-based precision-medicine therapies.”

Switching to Digital, Following Radiology’s Lead

With the introduction of Clarapath’s robotic sectioning device, pathology is finally following in the footsteps of other laboratory sciences like radiology and embracing the benefits of a digital transition.

In radiology, the shift to virtual imaging and teleradiology has improved clinical capacity so that more accurate diagnoses can be provided for less investment in terms of time and resources.

One of the leading investors in this round of Clarapath funding, Scott Lancaster of The 4100 Group, is a trained radiologist who understands the potential benefits that digital transition can bring to lab techniques.

Lancaster said:

As a practicing radiologist, I witnessed the shift in technology from analogue to digital, and how this improved my ability as a clinician to provide more accurate diagnoses. In addition, operations were streamlined as imaging data quality became less variable. Clarapath is shifting the pathology paradigm in a similar direction; not only is workflow streamlined and specimen variability reduced, this ultimately opens up entirely new areas to drive better patient care with lower cost.”

Bringing Cutting Edge Automated Sectioning to Pharmaceutical Firms

The company says that the latest round of investment will take Clarapath on the next stage of its journey by developing a sales route for the SectionStar into the pharmaceutical industry. Feinstein said:

This funding will help further develop SectionStar with the goal of launching in the non-clinical market in the very near future, and targeting the large clinical market as our ultimate goal.”

Currently, Clarapath is working closely alongside research and clinical customers such as Northwell Health and The Ellison Institute.

The SectionStar can be used to research and develop new pharmaceuticals outside of its initial clinical laboratory applications. Conventional tissue processing in this industry is based on two-dimensional sections, and lacks the three-dimensional context.

The consecutive sections cut by the SectionStar’s robotic actuators are not distorted, and these features allow them to be overlaid with molecular and genomic markers.

These data sets combined with advanced computational analyses can transform nonclinical research in diagnosing and developing therapies for cancer and other challenging diseases.

Clarapath’s founder, Partha Mitra, Ph.D.

Clarapath is confident that its device will find a strong market in several laboratory settings: clinical labs for human and veterinary medicine, pathology practices, and biopsies are all suitable applications for the SectionStar.

Continue reading: Employing AI for Prostate Cancer Prediction on Biopsies

References and Further Reading

Clarapath (2021). Clarapath, Medical Robotics Company, Raises $32M in Additional Funding. [Online] Global Newswire. Available at: https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2021/11/18/2337279/0/en/Clarapath-Medical-Robotics-Company-Raises-32M-in-Additional-Funding.html 

Edwards, D. (2021). Medical robotics start-up Clarapath raises $32 million in additional funding. [Online] Robotics and Automation News. Available at: https://roboticsandautomationnews.com/2021/11/17/medical-robotics-startup-clarapath-raises-32-million-in-additional-funding/47187/

Pilkington, B. (2022). How is the Digital Transition Benefiting the Planet?. [Online] AZO Materials. Available at: https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=21652 

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Ben Pilkington

Written by

Ben Pilkington

Ben Pilkington is a freelance writer who is interested in society and technology. He enjoys learning how the latest scientific developments can affect us and imagining what will be possible in the future. Since completing graduate studies at Oxford University in 2016, Ben has reported on developments in computer software, the UK technology industry, digital rights and privacy, industrial automation, IoT, AI, additive manufacturing, sustainability, and clean technology.

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