BD taps Techcyte for AI-powered Pap smear tests to help detect cervical cancer

Between the ongoing healthcare worker shortage and general human error, early signs of cancer are at risk of being overlooked when overworked lab technicians and pathologists are tasked with examining a mountain of patient samples.

Aiming to cut down on those misdiagnoses in the realm of women’s health, for one, are BD and Techcyte, which announced a collaboration this week focused on improving cervical cancer detection.

BD will begin offering Techcyte’s digital cervical cytology system, which is equipped with an artificial intelligence algorithm to screen Pap test samples and automatically flag possible signs of cancer.

“There is a shortage of health care laboratory technicians, and the problem is particularly acute in the area of cytology,” Nikos Pavlidis, acting president of BD’s diagnostic solutions business, said in the announcement. “This solution helps solve for the dearth of expert cytologists by leveraging new AI-based digital technology to make the testing process efficient and bring the traditional Pap test into the 21st century.”

To use Techcyte’s system, pathologists and cytotechnologists scan in a Pap sample to convert it to a digital slide image. From there, the AI can analyze the slide to pinpoint any signs of cervical cancer or precancerous lesions, which clinicians can further examine within the digital platform, either on a computer in the lab or remotely from another device.

That’s a higher-tech alternative to traditional Pap smear interpretation, which typically requires a clinician to merely examine a slide through a microscope.

“Eye strain, fatigue, distractions, and intense workloads can make manually reading Pap smears difficult,” Techcyte CEO Ben Cahoon said in the release. “Our digital workflow supported by an AI-based algorithm can assist lab professionals in delivering consistent results for their patients. Our system presents the most diagnostically relevant cell images to guide the cytotechnologists and pathologists for efficient review and better decision making.”

Clinicians will be able to use Techcyte’s technology with the BD SurePath Pap test vial, as well as other commonly used liquid-based testing options, and Techcyte said it “aims to be compatible with several of the most-used whole-slide imagers on the market.”

BD and Techcyte’s offering will launch first in Europe in the first half of this year since Techcyte’s system already has CE mark approval on the continent. The company said it’s planning to pursue FDA approval of the technology, after which it will be able to roll out the BD-partnered solution stateside.

Cervical cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer among women, and though it still results in more than 340,000 deaths per year, its mortality rate has steadily declined in recent decades thanks in large part to improvements in screening and HPV vaccination, according to the World Health Organization.

The Pap test-focused team-up comes even as screening recommendations for the disease have shifted; though average-risk women were previously recommended to undergo a Pap smear every three years starting in their 20s, new guidance allows them to opt instead for an HPV test every five years.

Despite that shift, BD and Techcyte noted in their announcement that “Pap tests will continue to play an important diagnostic role,” as positive HPV tests are often followed by a Pap test for closer inspection.