Digital archive

The Northern Ireland Virtual Tissue Archive (NIVTA) is to help research cancer and develop new treatments by storing high-resolution images of tissue samples.

The new facility at Queen’s University Belfast Bioimaging Unit is funded by a £250,000 grant from the Health and Social Care Research and Development Office. Based in the School of Biomedical Sciences, it stores images electronically for research and educational purposes.

Tissue samples are usually stored on glass microscope slides, but these can now be digitally scanned in very fine detail so that researchers can view samples on a computer monitor. A single ‘virtual slide’ can be very large and one microscope image would just about fit on a CD. NIVTA will be scanning hundreds of thousands of microscope samples requiring terabytes of data storage.

The unit is supported by Hewlett Packard and by i-Path Diagnostics, a Queen’s University spin out company, which has developed specialist software for the online management and examination of ‘virtual slides’.

This will allow Northern Ireland researchers to share their microscope samples internationally with other researchers via the web, improving the identification of markers of disease and for development of new therapies. This will include studies on lung, stomach and bladder cancer.