NAU and Flagship Biosciences Partnership Featured Inside NAU

Partnership with biotech firm magnifies student skills

A new partnership between Northern Arizona University and a local startup biotech company is changing the way undergraduate students view tissue samples and enhancing their career outlook at the same time.

Several microanatomy classes are using digital slides, considered more useful and interactive than traditional slides with functionality similar to Google Maps or navigation systems, according to Robert Kellar, instructor of microanatomy at NAU.

“The microscope is a solitary experience,” Kellar said. “With digital slides I can have a student at the front of the room discussing the result on a monitor, and all other students can share in that experience with their laptops. I can assign homework and actually track where the student has digitally written on a slide and better understand what they really know about the underlying microanatomy.”

Digital image of a tissue sample

Undergraduate microanatomy students at NAU are using digital images of slides that are 2 GB in size, or about 1,000 times larger than photos captured by the average digital camera. Flagship Bioscience, a local biotech firm that provided the slides, uses whole slide scanning equipment that can transform a small biopsy tissue sample into a high-resolution digital image. Click here to see the original tissue sample pictured above.

The switch to digital slides is a result of the collaboration between NAU and Flagship Bioscience, a laboratory that delivers computer-based pathology analysis to pharmaceutical clients around the world. The partnership stemmed from the company’s need to train and hire students who had microanatomy expertise in manipulation of digital slides. To meet this need, the biotech firm created digital versions of scientific samples for undergraduate microanatomy courses at NAU, thereby creating a pool of skilled employee and internship candidates.
Kellar said students generally decide around the time of their microanatomy coursework whether to pursue advanced careers in fields like pathology where tissue analysis is critical and the use of digital microscopy can make the difference in degree choice.
“If students do not enjoy working under a microscope, they will likely be less inclined to pursue later careers in pathology that require hours a day of microscope viewing,” he said. “Our use of digital slides has been hugely successful for NAU in both saving costs and time as well as improving the learning experience.”

This article originally appeared at Inside NAU:

Posted in AZBio News, BioScience, Health, Members.

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