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BCA News: Fall 2020
 

Remote Operations in an Imaging Core Facility
James Hayden, RBP, FBCA

The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a global leader in biomedical research with special expertise in cancer, immunology, infectious diseases and vaccine development. The Institute provides a variety of shared resources (Core facilities) to support these endeavors, including the Imaging Shared Resource directed by BCA Vice-President, James Hayden and staffed by BCA member Fred Keeney.

As with all aspects of life in the past months, restrictions put into place because of the COVID-19 pandemic have created a challenging environment for traditional imaging projects and support. Face-to-face training is not currently allowed, yet the work needs to move forward, and researchers still need to be instructed in the proper use of the microscopes and other advanced systems within the facility. The Core is addressing this issue in two ways: first by integrating new automated instruments with higher throughput and automated analysis functions that will require minimal user input, and second by instituting remote training regimens using customized training videos and live interaction through Microsoft Teams.

"Contactless" service has become a modern buzzword and in the current climate, there is increased interest in whole-slide imaging with remote access to files. For routine digital pathology, clients can drop off their specimens to the Histology Core, where they are processed with traditional H&E, specialized IHC or IFC staining. The slides can then be dropped off in the Imaging Facility, scanned, and the final images and analysis can be "picked up" remotely through the internal server shares. In this way, users spend less time in the facility, don't need the full amount of training, and can get a more standardized and higher quality product. We have purchased new, automated microscopes and are currently developing this workflow for regular use.

Automated imaging services, however, are not a full replacement for user-operated systems and training is still needed on a regular basis. Training sessions in the Facility have traditionally included two parts: a hardware orientation to point out the various knobs, sliders, apertures, lenses, cameras and light sources needed for specific projects, as well as the software components needed for image acquisition, saving, output and analysis. Because our instruments can be configured in multiple ways, it is imperative that users understand how the systems work and are proficient at switching around the hardware (and software) when they are facing the instruments on their own.

To facilitate the first part, we are producing a series of training videos to step through the process of the hardware setup. Each is specific to one configuration on each instrument and provides the same information about the "How" and the "Why" that we have always offered. These videos are posted at the instrument and online for easy retrieval and can also assist with refresher training. There are full sessions, as well as shorter, specific topics available.

Software training is easily accomplished through Microsoft Teams by sharing screens and providing a live, interactive experience. As long as both computers are running Windows 10, the trainer as well as the trainee can operate their own mouse simultaneously. We are able to talk users throughout the imaging process, demonstrate and point out how the software works, and help to troubleshoot what is being seen live through the cameras and captured in the software. We can augment the video information and answer any questions as the researcher sets up and uses the instrument in our "telepresence". As an added bonus, the sessions can be recorded for future reference.

These training sessions have proven to be a more efficient and effective way to learn and the slide scanning services are starting to take off. Staying flexible is key, as is learning how to plan, shoot, produce and edit custom videos!


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