No More Microscopes. How close are we to glassless pathology? With Dr. Richard Levenson, UC Davis Health


From utilizing pigeons in medical diagnostics to pioneering glassless pathology. Dr. Richard Levenson’s extraordinary pathology path.

Dr. Richard Levenson joins the Digital Pathology Podcast for an insightful discussion on innovations in digital pathology. With an eclectic background spanning the humanities, pathology research, and experience in startups, Richard offers a unique perspective. He is currently pioneering groundbreaking research in glassless pathology techniques and AI applications at UC Davis Health.

Pioneering Novel Glassless Pathology Techniques at UC Davis

Richard first developed an interest in research during an internship in Dr. Judah Folkman’s renowned lab studying angiogenesis. He went on to medical school at the University of Michigan and completed his pathology residency at Duke University before entering industry. At Duke, Richard also began pursuing his own lab work around the plasminogen activator and its role in cancer malignancy.

But as Richard details, he struggled to progress his research there given conflicting experimental data and results. This experience highlighted key lessons around embracing anomalies and paradigm-shifting findings. While it may have stalled Richard’s early research ambitions, his openness to new directions would prove formative.

After a period of challenges, Richard went on to help pioneer multispectral imaging platforms at Cambridge Research & Instrumentation. Their work laid the foundation for influential tools still widely used across digital pathology today. This early foray into industry kindled an appreciation of emerging technologies and their potential clinical value.

Now at UC Davis, Richard is pushing the boundaries of real-time tissue characterization with microscopy advances. His lab conceptualized MUSE (Microscopy with Ultraviolet Surface Excitation) and FIBI (Fluorescence-Imitating Brightfield Imaging) microscopy frameworks that image thick fresh or fixed tissue sections without traditional histology workflows.

Commercializing Slide-Free Imaging with 97% Accuracy

MUSE utilizes deep ultraviolet light at 275-280 nm to excite autofluorescence for subsequent standard camera detection. FIBI leverages blue light to similarly generate intrinsic color patterns reminiscent of H&E staining. Both facilitate direct on-site imaging without frozen section processing.

Commercialization is also underway to bring these technologies to market. Richard’s startup Histolix has studied over 100 specimens using FIBI across diseases like breast cancer. Their validation achieved a 97% concordance between glassless FIBI and standard pathologist H&E reads—a remarkable result suggesting clinical utility.

Such solutions could soon transform procedures relying on frozen section analysis. Richard believes slide-free telepathology will enable rapid turnarounds critical for real-time decision making in settings from operating rooms to global health clinics. It exemplifies the move toward fully digital, computational histology analysis.

Pioneering Responsible AI with Thoughtful Research and Education

Richard meanwhile contributes strongly on the responsible AI front through his research and educational outreach. His lab has pioneered AI techniques to convert non-standard histology images from modalities like MUSE and FIBI into H&E-like digital slides. This facilitates pathologist interpretation and fuels the development of computational analysis tools.

However, as detailed in Richard’s recent paper on “AI Pathology – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”, risks around bias, cost, access, and error mitigation remain. Addressing these through proactive policies and oversight will prove critical as AI sees increased clinical integration across specialties like digital pathology.

By driving multiple initiatives around ethics, global health outreach, instrumentation, and education, Richard’s influential body of work has significantly shaped digital pathology’s ongoing responsible evolution. His approach synthesizing humanistic and technological perspectives makes him an especially compelling leader in this transformative age for diagnostic medicine.

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