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BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2003 May 23;3:5. Epub 2003 May 23.

The tissue microarray data exchange specification: a community-based, open source tool for sharing tissue microarray data.

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Cancer Diagnosis Program, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD, USA.



Tissue Microarrays (TMAs) allow researchers to examine hundreds of small tissue samples on a single glass slide. The information held in a single TMA slide may easily involve Gigabytes of data. To benefit from TMA technology, the scientific community needs an open source TMA data exchange specification that will convey all of the data in a TMA experiment in a format that is understandable to both humans and computers. A data exchange specification for TMAs allows researchers to submit their data to journals and to public data repositories and to share or merge data from different laboratories. In May 2001, the Association of Pathology Informatics (API) hosted the first in a series of four workshops, co-sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, to develop an open, community-supported TMA data exchange specification.


A draft tissue microarray data exchange specification was developed through workshop meetings. The first workshop confirmed community support for the effort and urged the creation of an open XML-based specification. This was to evolve in steps with approval for each step coming from the stakeholders in the user community during open workshops. By the fourth workshop, held October, 2002, a set of Common Data Elements (CDEs) was established as well as a basic strategy for organizing TMA data in self-describing XML documents.


The TMA data exchange specification is a well-formed XML document with four required sections: 1) Header, containing the specification Dublin Core identifiers, 2) Block, describing the paraffin-embedded array of tissues, 3)Slide, describing the glass slides produced from the Block, and 4) Core, containing all data related to the individual tissue samples contained in the array. Eighty CDEs, conforming to the ISO-11179 specification for data elements constitute XML tags used in the TMA data exchange specification. A set of six simple semantic rules describe the complete data exchange specification. Anyone using the data exchange specification can validate their TMA files using a software implementation written in Perl and distributed as a supplemental file with this publication.


The TMA data exchange specification is now available in a draft form with community-approved Common Data Elements and a community-approved general file format and data structure. The specification can be freely used by the scientific community. Efforts sponsored by the Association for Pathology Informatics to refine the draft TMA data exchange specification are expected to continue for at least two more years. The interested public is invited to participate in these open efforts. Information on future workshops will be posted at (API we site).

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