Microsoft cloud provides ideal platform for ground-breaking imaging technology
November 4, 2021
IllumiSonics, a medical device company with offices in Toronto and R&D facilities at the University of Waterloo’s PhotoMedicine Labs, has selected Microsoft Azure’s cloud services to accelerate the commercialization of its ground-breaking optical imaging technology.
illumiSonics’ Photoacoustic Remote Sensing (PARS) system uses lasers and the physics of light-matter interaction to identify the optical absorption rates of different tissues within the body.
“The incredibly high-resolution images require cloud capabilities for processing and storage,” said Lisa Carroll, Microsoft Canada’s National Public Sector Lead. “This innovation in imaging needs a platform that delivers high availability, scalability and interoperability to enable rapid deployment, making illumiSonics an ideal candidate for Azure.”
While attempting to source a powerful GPU-powered server for its research, the company realized that no amount of onsite hardware would accommodate its rapidly scaling requirements. A cloud computing solution using Microsoft Azure with its machine learning and assorted capabilities was the ideal solution.
“As we began to transition from a technology development company to a products and partnering company, our needs for a scalable platform that regularly uses the latest technological advances in hardware without requiring regular updates or maintenance on our end became paramount,” said illumiSonics Chief Executive Officer Rocky Ganske. “We needed a GPU-inclusive platform capable of scaling with our business and delivering the real-time results of PARS microscopy to what will soon be a steadily growing number of customers.”
Real-time, non-invasive pathology is one of the most exciting potential applications for PARS, notes Ganske. “Surgical excision with the goal of removing all of the cancer is an integral part of the treatment for most solid tumors.
Deciding how much tissue around the margin of a tumor to remove, however, is seldom obvious because differentiating healthy from malignant tissue by eye or palpation can be highly inaccurate. The current gold standard – post-operative histological analysis – can take anywhere from five working days to several weeks for results to be returned after interpretation by a pathologist.”
If the post-operative analysis reveals unexcised cancer tissue, follow-up surgery may be required. However, using PARS imaging while the surgeon is still in the operating room would provide the analysis in seconds and allow for the complete removal of a tumor.
“PARS technology can also be used as an advanced ophthalmology tool capable of real-time, non-invasive eye imaging,” said Ganske. “An estimated 1.5 million Canadians suffer from vision loss and an estimated six million more have been diagnosed with sight-threatening eye disease. Canada spends $23.5 billion on vision loss every year even though approximately three-quarters of cases are either preventable or treatable.
“After cataracts, the three leading causes of blindness in Canada are age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. These diseases have no cure and because they have no symptoms and no technology can accurately screen for them at their earliest stages, they are usually diagnosed only after vision has been irreversibly affected.
“However, all three diseases have metabolic foundations that with the right imaging tool could be detected pre-symptomatically through abnormal retinal blood oxygen saturation, metabolic rate of oxygen and melanin loss in the retinal pigment epithelium allowing early interventions to prevent or significantly slow vision loss. Currently, there is no clinical tool capable of providing these crucial details, so there is a desperate need for a real-time, non-contact, safe, and accurate ophthalmology tool capable of structural and functional imaging.”
The selection of Azure cloud services made sense because of its wide adoption in hospital and research communities and the familiarity of illumiSonics’ ultimate customer base with its user interface.
Security was also an important consideration because the patient data collected by PARS microscopy must comply with health information privacy standards.
“The goal has been to adopt a platform that grants us knowledge and control over which of our images can be accessed by a customer,” said Dr. Haji Reza, illumiSonics’ Founder and Chief Technology Officer. “We also need those images, which can be up to 70 gigabytes in size, to be viewable without requiring download.”
“Building and validating HIPAA-compliant platforms takes a lot of investment, both in terms of money and energy,” added Ganske. “That compliant modules are readily available as part of Azure was a big plus.”
illumiSonics is looking forward to using Azure Machine Learning to accurately colourize image generation, identify cancer cells and build libraries of different cancer images.
“As more people begin using PARS images for diagnostics, Azure AI will play a major role in delivering fast, accurate results,” predicted Ganske.
Another important component of Azure cloud services is its Research Centre of Excellence on Cloud (RCEC) service, which helps institutions seamlessly migrate their research workloads to the cloud, scale their research, collaborate with partner organizations and simplify their computing needs.
“At its core, cloud storage enables users to store and share data with ease and security, but Azure is more than that,” said Microsoft’s Lisa Carroll. “Microsoft’s Cloud for Healthcare provides trusted and integrated capabilities that deliver automation for high-value workflows as well as deep data analysis for both structured and unstructured data that enable healthcare organizations to turn insight into action.
“There has been a tremendous increase in the amount of data collected in the healthcare sector with fragmentation and disparate data formats across providers and care teams. The global adoption of Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) has transformed the healthcare industry by enabling the rapid exchange of medical information electronically between healthcare providers across a single, simplified data management solution.
“This summer, we introduced Azure API for FHIR, which offers a turnkey platform for a cloud-based FHIR service where healthcare providers can quickly connect existing data sources such as electronic health record systems and research databases.”
The Research Centre of Excellence on Cloud offering will leverage Azure’s capabilities to enable accelerated research outcomes in a secure and trusted environment.
“This research offering will allow our customers to easily collaborate and jointly share their experiences,” said Ganske.
Azure will also enable illumiSonics to make the apps and infrastructure it’s building available to customers through a subscription-based model. The first of these apps, created with Microsoft’s help and using a prebuilt custom vision API from Azure Cognitive Services, allows remote clinicians to view PARS images and automatically identify multiple types of cancer cells.
“Microsoft’s Web App development toolkit allowed us to easily deploy a fully functional medical imaging viewer for our clinician collaborators, enabling them to securely access large images from any device, zoom in and zoom out, and validate the quality of our PARS images in comparison with state-of-the-art imaging modalities,” said Ganske.
“The hands-on support we received from different teams at Microsoft was unmatched and helped us make the transition from no experience on Azure to being capable of running workloads and deploying applications.”
illumiSonics anticipates commercialization of a clinical product in two or three years, but may be ready to introduce a pre-clinical product even sooner.