Collaborating over the Web
Collaborative research projects involving tissue microarrays are beginning to happen, in a small way, in a program under the auspices of the University of Michigan Medical School. The program is directed by Mark Rubin, MD, assistant professor of pathology and urology at the medical school and director of the university’s Prostate Spore Tissue Bank.
"The one philosophical issue that is most important to us is developing a system that will encourage and allow those using it to put data back into it," Dr. Rubin says.
Three years ago Dr. Rubin embarked on a project intended to make better use of the university’s tissue bank resources. "The paraffin tissues were being used for numerous experiments in which a researcher would conduct a study, the results would be entered into a spreadsheet somewhere, there might be a publication, but we would never see any of the data," Dr. Rubin says.
To help remedy this situation, Dr. Rubin and his colleagues created a Web site that links information from tissue microarray samples and the pre-existing tissue bank’s database. "It archives each individual 0.6-mm spot, or sample, which is stored with a unique identifier that tells us exactly where it came from, what slide, what treatment, and so forth," explains Dr. Rubin. (The site, which also includes associated images, can be viewed at http://rubinlab.cancer.med.umich.edu/.) The site is secure, password-protected, and employs a special image-scanning and display technology that makes slides viewable at several different resolutions.
Like others working in this area, Dr. Rubin sees the need to upgrade his database tools, even though, he notes, he doesn’t have access to the resources a for-profit company can tap for this kind of development. "We’re going to build the database from the ground up in an Oracle database so that everything will be entirely on the Internet," he says.
"The key is that it makes it possible for researchers to set up a study set and review their cases over the Internet and to do so collaboratively," says Dr. Rubin. And the process is working in just that way. "People take tissues out, they do experiments, and the data comes back to be incorporated in our database."
Dr. Rubin and colleagues at Johns Hopkins and Baylor universities recently completed a collaborative study scheduled for publication in Human Pathology, and other collaborative projects are underway.
In five years, Dr. Rubin estimates, the university will have developed a rich data resource on prostate cancer and probably other diseases. "We have it set up for prostate work, but we’re going to modify this for other tissue types," he says.