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BMC Cancer. 2007 Feb 28;7:37.

Availability and quality of paraffin blocks identified in pathology archives: a multi-institutional study by the Shared Pathology Informatics Network (SPIN).

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Center for Pathology Informatics, Benedum Oncology Informatics Center, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. patelaa@upmc.edu <patelaa@upmc.edu>



Shared Pathology Informatics Network (SPIN) is a tissue resource initiative that utilizes clinical reports of the vast amount of paraffin-embedded tissues routinely stored by medical centers. SPIN has an informatics component (sending tissue-related queries to multiple institutions via the internet) and a service component (providing histopathologically annotated tissue specimens for medical research). This paper examines if tissue blocks, identified by localized computer searches at participating institutions, can be retrieved in adequate quantity and quality to support medical researchers.


Four centers evaluated pathology reports (1990-2005) for common and rare tumors to determine the percentage of cases where suitable tissue blocks with tumor were available. Each site generated a list of 100 common tumor cases (25 cases each of breast adenocarcinoma, colonic adenocarcinoma, lung squamous carcinoma, and prostate adenocarcinoma) and 100 rare tumor cases (25 cases each of adrenal cortical carcinoma, gastro-intestinal stromal tumor [GIST], adenoid cystic carcinoma, and mycosis fungoides) using a combination of Tumor Registry, laboratory information system (LIS) and/or SPIN-related tools. Pathologists identified the slides/blocks with tumor and noted first 3 slides with largest tumor and availability of the corresponding block.


Common tumors cases (n = 400), the institutional retrieval rates (all blocks) were 83% (A), 95% (B), 80% (C), and 98% (D). Retrieval rate (tumor blocks) from all centers for common tumors was 73% with mean largest tumor size of 1.49 cm; retrieval (tumor blocks) was highest-lung (84%) and lowest-prostate (54%). Rare tumors cases (n = 400), each institution's retrieval rates (all blocks) were 78% (A), 73% (B), 67% (C), and 84% (D). Retrieval rate (tumor blocks) from all centers for rare tumors was 66% with mean largest tumor size of 1.56 cm; retrieval (tumor blocks) was highest for GIST (72%) and lowest for adenoid cystic carcinoma (58%).


Assessment shows availability and quality of archival tissue blocks that are retrievable and associated electronic data that can be of value for researchers. This study serves to compliment the data from which uniform use of the SPIN query tools by all four centers will be measured to assure and highlight the usefulness of archival material for obtaining tumor tissues for research.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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