The Editor’s Spotlight: Navigating Giga-pixel Images in Digital Pathology

For the first article to highlight in the freshly-conceived Editor’s Spotlight, from TOCHI Issue 23:1 I selected a piece of work that strongly reminded me of the context of some of my own graduate research, which took place embedded in a neurosurgery department. In my case, our research team (consisting of both physicians and computer scientists) sought to improve the care of patients who were often referred to the university hospital with debilitating neurological conditions and extremely grave diagnoses.

When really strong human-computer interaction research collides with real-world problems like this, in my experience compelling clinical impact and rigorous research results are always hard-won but in the end they are well worth the above-and-beyond efforts required to make such interdisciplinary collaborations fly.

And the following TOCHI Editor’s Spotlight paper, in my opinion, is an outstanding example of such a contribution.


Navigating Giga-pixel Images in Digital Pathology

The diagnosis of cancer is serious business, yet in routine clinical practice pathologists still work on microscopes, with physical slides, because digital pathology runs up against many barriers—not the least of which are the navigational challenges raised by panning and zooming through huge (and I mean huge) image datasets on the order of multiple gigapixels. And that’s just for a single slide.

Few illustrations grace the article, but those that do—

They stop the reader cold.

Extract from a GI biopsy, showing malignant tissue at 400x magnification. (Fig. 3)

The ruddy and well-formed cells of healthy tissue from a GI biopsy slowly give way to an ill-defined frontier of pathology, an ever-expanding redoubt for the malignant tissue lurking deep within. One cannot help but be struck by the subtext that these images represent the lives of patients that face a dire health crisis.

Only by finding, comparing, and contrasting this tissue to other cross-sections and slides—scanned at 400x magnification and a startling 100,000 dots per inch—can the pathologist arrive at a correct and accurate diagnosis as to the type and extent of the malignancy.

This article stands out because it puts into practice—and challenges—accepted design principles for the navigation of such gigapixel images, against the backdrop of real work by medical experts.

These are not laboratory studies that strive for some artificial measure of “ecological validity”—no, here the analyses take place in the context of the real work of pathologists (using archival cases) and yet the experimental evaluations are still rigorous and insightful. There is absolutely no question of validity and the stakes are clearly very high.

While the article focuses on digital pathology, the insights and perspectives it raises (not to mention the interesting image navigation and comparison tasks motivated by clinical needs) should inform, direct, and inspire many other efforts to improve interfaces for navigation through large visualizations and scientific data-sets.


Roy Ruddle, Thomas Rhys, Rebecca Randell, Phil Quirke, and Darren Treanor. 2016. The Design and Evaluation of Interfaces for Navigating Gigapixel Images in Digital Pathology. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 23, 1, Article 5 (February 2015), 29 pages. DOI=





Introducing “The Editor’s Spotlight”

In a new feature, as the Editor-in-Chief I will offer up some thoughts on select papers as they appear in the pages of TOCHI (or to be more precise, as they grace the ACM’s digital library, given our desire to turn-around accepted manuscripts to the research community as quickly as possible—not to mention the electronic-first nature of publishing these days). And in addition, I will always strive to give an overview of all the content in each issue, to the extent possible.

But before I unshutter the brilliant beacon for the first time, with Issue 23:1 as its deserving focus, let me briefly set the context:

The purpose of these spotlight editorials is to help frame the contributions of the research that we publish in the wider context of the field.

As well as to direct attention to articles that may be of especial interest.

That, of course, serves not only our readers but also our authors—all of them—because by implication, bringing attention to our great content raises the profile of the entire journal.

By highlighting certain articles my intent is not to suggest that others are not worthy of your attention. Far from it. Every article we publish has received exquisite attention from our Editorial Board, so the TOCHI brand in and of itself tells you that the content is always absolutely sterling.

Hence these are not critical reviews or critiques. These articles have already passed the gauntlet of rigorous peer review, and so my purpose here is to help guide our readers as to the nature and importance of the contributions we publish.

As such, my hope is that both newcomers to the field of human-computer interaction (who may be missing some of the implicit framing and motivation that underlies many papers) as well as seasoned practitioners and students of HCI (who may be quickly scanning the journal’s contents to see what catches their eye) can benefit from these remarks and reflections.

As well, astute authors-to-be can perhaps gain a few insights as to what level of contribution is necessary to pass muster at the journal—not to mention the ways of conveying one’s results that tend to best resonate with TOCHI’s reviewers and our Editorial Board.

To fully absorb and appreciate both the strengths and limitations of each article’s scientific contributions one must read them in detail, of course, as I hope you will be moved to do when one of these catches your eye—and as they originally did my own.

Just follow the “DOI” link immediately after each paper to view it directly in the ACM Digital Library.

You can be the first to see these commentaries on the TOCHI News page (, which I urge you to follow. Please do help spread the word for those TOCHI articles that pique your interest.

And of course, all of your individual downloads, subscriptions, and citations are the loose change in the treasury of the journal’s impact.

But they compound over time and slowly accumulate great intellectual riches.


The first Editor’s Spotlight will follow this post shortly. Stay tuned. We will also issue Article Alerts for all of our other great content.