A system for sharing routine surgical pathology specimens across institutions: the Shared Pathology Informatics Network

Hum Pathol. 2007 Aug;38(8):1212-25. doi: 10.1016/j.humpath.2007.01.007. Epub 2007 May 8.


This report presents an overview for pathologists of the development and potential applications of a novel Web enabled system allowing indexing and retrieval of pathology specimens across multiple institutions. The system was developed through the National Cancer Institute's Shared Pathology Informatics Network program with the goal of creating a prototype system to find existing pathology specimens derived from routine surgical and autopsy procedures ("paraffin blocks") that may be relevant to cancer research. To reach this goal, a number of challenges needed to be met. A central aspect was the development of an informatics system that supported Web-based searching while retaining local control of data. Additional aspects included the development of an eXtensible Markup Language schema, representation of tissue specimen annotation, methods for deidentifying pathology reports, tools for autocoding critical data from these reports using the Unified Medical Language System, and hierarchies of confidentiality and consent that met or exceeded federal requirements. The prototype system supported Web-based querying of millions of pathology reports from 6 participating institutions across the country in a matter of seconds to minutes and the ability of bona fide researchers to identify and potentially to request specific paraffin blocks from the participating institutions. With the addition of associated clinical and outcome information, this system could vastly expand the pool of annotated tissues available for cancer research as well as other diseases.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Medical Informatics / organization & administration*
  • Pathology, Surgical / organization & administration*
  • Specimen Handling / methods*
  • Tissue Banks*
  • United States