Hopes for remote analysis

Invermay agricultural testing company Techion says the inking of an agreement with Awanui Labs has the potential to make New Zealand a global leader in medical diagnostics and "revolutionise" human healthcare.

The deal would see Techion and Awanui Labs collaborate on developing testing solutions, using Microsoft cloud and custom vision artificial intelligence technology to enable remote analysis of a range of microscope-based tests from regional clinics and hospitals.

It has been 30 years since Greg Mirams built the first Fecpak parasite diagnostics system in the bedroom of a Roslyn house.

Since then, Techion has gone from a microscope system into a digital solution integrating hardware, software and AI to deliver microscopic analysis for complex diseases and environmental problems, enabling analysis of tests without traditional microscopes or laboratory-based technicians.

Techion’s digital imaging technology, used to detect parasites and other diseases in farm animals, would now be developed to make testing human medical samples faster, more accessible and cost-effective. For some diagnostic tests, it had the potential to enable smaller communities to enjoy a similar level of services as big cities.

Awapuni Labs is a national laboratory and pathology organisation which collects, analyses and reports more than 7million patient results annually.

It is responsible for about 70% of the New Zealand diagnostic market.

"The integration of a digital diagnostic solution will be a transformational change that, once realised, will complement Awanui’s regional diagnostic services," Mr Mirams said.

"We have proven how powerful this approach can be in animal health and I believe it will energise the conversation around how we deliver the future for regional healthcare in New Zealand."

The availability of digital imaging technology meant samples would no longer need to be transported off-site.

For certain tests, Techion’s Rata AI platform had the potential to automatically spot and raise any red flags for clinicians, reducing the need to review thousands of sample slides showing no areas of concern.

Awanui Labs head of strategic business development Trevor English said the most important potential benefit would be seeing patients across the country receive the same levels of service and enabling testing to be done at point of care, regardless of location.

Samples degrading when they were sent away for testing was a constant challenge, Mr English said.

"You can’t transport fluid from a spinal tap, for example, because the quality deteriorates so quickly.

"That means people outside our biggest cities sometimes have to travel for these procedures, adding stress, inconvenience and cost. This approach has the potential to solve this issue and also reduce the pressure on our urban based teams and spread the testing load across our network."

— Staff reporter