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New facility helps Queen’s lead the way in cancer research

A new facility at Queen’s Bioimaging Unit, the first of its kind in the UK, is helping research cancer and develop new treatments.

The Northern Ireland Virtual Tissue Archive (NIVTA), funded by a £250,000 grant from the Health and Social Care Research and Development Office (HSC R&D Office), stores high resolution images of tissue samples, establishing a digital archive.

Based in the School of Biomedical Sciences, it stores the 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 no longer need to use microscopes but can view samples on a computer monitor. These are called ‘virtual slides’.

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A single virtual slide can be very large - 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 Ltd - a Queen’s University spin out company that has developed specialist software for the online management and examination of virtual slides.

This allows 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 includes studies on lung, stomach and bladder cancer.

Peter Hamilton, Director of NIVTA, stated: “We are very fortunate in Northern Ireland to have access to the most up-to-date technology for tissue scanning and archiving within NIVTA and we are very grateful to the R&D Office for supporting this initiative. This will without doubt help us to continue to lead research on cancer and other diseases.

“NIVTA supports the very active cancer research programme in Northern Ireland, bringing tissue imaging into the 21st century and providing researchers with the technology they need to support the identification of new cancer markers and new therapies.

“NIVTA also supports training and education in medicine. Undergraduate medical students no longer struggle to use microscopes in their classroom but have access to libraries of virtual slides which they can access from the classroom or from home.”

Professor Bernie Hannigan, Director of R&D for the HSC, said: “NIVTA represents an important infrastructure investment for the HSC R&D Office, providing state of the art facilities which we hope will enable researchers to generate important findings that will be of benefit to patients, and also help to secure additional research funding from other sources.

The initiative has already generated important collaborations and has the potential to enhance Northern Ireland’s reputation both nationally and internationally as a leading centre for bioimaging research.”

Lisa Mitchell | alfa
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Further reports about: NIVTA Northern Queen’s R&D Samples

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