LearnHaem establishes Asia Pacific’s largest haematology database on AWS
Haematology — the study of blood — plays a crucial role in diagnosing and treating various blood disorders and diseases such as anaemia, leukaemia, and lymphoma. But medical professionals and haematology students face a key challenge: limited access to educational materials, specifically digital blood films that depict how actual diseases look under the microscope. Existing websites offered static, zoomed-in images of blood slides which failed to mimic real-life complexities and required skill to identify more obscure pathology.
LearnHaem, a nonprofit online educational resource based in Singapore, grew out of a need to make haematology content accessible and inclusive to medical professionals and students around the world. The LearnHaem website, built on Amazon Web Services (AWS), provides one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of no-cost digitized images of microscopy slides and haematology educational content available in Asia Pacific, focusing on blood and blood-related disorders. The digital slides — ranging from bone marrow aspirates to blood smears — facilitate the study of blood cells by simulating the act of viewing glass slides through a microscope.
Finding a low-cost solution on AWS
Launched in 2018 by a group of haematologists based in Singapore who believe in democratizing access to medical education, LearnHaem started with sharing its own haematology educational content and a few digital blood slides using an online slide viewer service. The team’s collection of digitized microscopy slides had been created from their work at the National University Cancer Institute Singapore (NCIS). Each digital slide image was 1-4 gigabytes (GB) in size, and the online slide viewer that LearnHaem used had limitations to its storage capacity, which restricted user access to its complete haematology digital slide collection. While the third-party service could offer up to 250 gigabytes (GB) of storage, the high cost made it financially unsustainable for the team to scale.
Other no-cost digital slide viewers were slow and lacked features that allow users to zoom in and out of the slide. This often resulted in users taking up to five minutes to fully load a digital slide. In addition, uploading slides to the third-party database was time-consuming, with each slide taking 1-2 hours to upload.
The LearnHaem team needed an affordable hosting service for their growing microscopy slide database. In 2020, the team decided that they would build their own digital slide viewer on AWS.
Facilitating enriching and interactive learning experiences
In just three months, LearnHaem designed, developed, and deployed its own digital slide viewer on AWS Cloud. With its own viewer, the website is no longer limited by file storage capacity, which means the team can add digital slide content across the entire website to increase access to users. The slide viewer also includes features for users to zoom in and out of microscopy slides and adjust the contrast and saturation, allowing them to explore the slides in greater detail.
Since the launch of the digital slide viewer, LearnHaem has more than doubled its user base — from 8,000 monthly unique users to over 20,000 monthly unique users from around the world as of May 2023.
Now, LearnHaem benefits from instant content loading – no longer does it take five minutes to load a slide, as it did in the past. The seamless user experience is made possible through Amazon CloudFront‘s low latency delivery. The team can also now optimize costs, paying only for the compute time they use by running on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). In addition, LearnHaem can scale storage for its growing digital slide database reliably and affordably using Amazon Elastic Block Storage (Amazon EBS). The team also spends 50% less time uploading resources onto the database.
In 2021, LearnHaem applied for and received an AWS grant through the AWS Educate program, providing the online learning resource with credits that helped offset the annual cost of deploying AWS services.
Democratizing healthcare education for all
The LearnHaem team aims to further enhance the digital slide viewer’s functionality. In its next iteration, the team hopes to build a feature allowing users to compare two slides side-by-side, affording an even more interactive and informative learning experience. Looking ahead, LearnHaem plans to continue adding more haematology educational content and slides to its website, to benefit even more users worldwide.
Find out more about LearnHaem here.
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