NCI's web-based database may link images to genetic data

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The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has chosen Washington University School of Medicine and the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis to create an internet-accessible database for millions of cancer images. The Cancer Imaging Archive (TCIA) will combine tumor scans collected from various cancer research initiatives into a single searchable database accessible to both research scientists and the general public.

One of the first projects to be included will be the Cancer Genome Atlas, a collaboration to catalog the genetic errors in more than 20 different types of cancers, which will be aided by the university's Genome Institute.

This collaboration will allow TCIA to connect the genetic information from the genome atlas project to x-rays and MRI, CT and PET scans used to diagnose various cancers. 

"Linking scans to genetic information may help us to identify aspects of the tumor's appearance that can help us determine the genetic type of the tumor," said Fred Prior, PhD, director of TCIA at Washington University's Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, also located in St. Louis. "That could be extremely important for diagnosis and treatment of some cancers."

As an example, genome atlas researchers have identified four distinct genetic signatures in glioblastomas and plan to use those signatures to customize treatments. If scientists can correlate tumor scans to particular genetic subtypes, it may expedite efforts to improve treatment.

TCIA also can be used by patients and the public, who can search for images of tumors based on the type of scan and the area of the body where the tumor is found.

Organizers said they are making the data publicly accessible for educational and informational purposes; however, patient names and identifying information will not be made public.

Prior is director of the university's Electronic Radiology Laboratory, where scientists have been actively working with the National Biomedical Imaging Archive, a software package originally created at the NCI. Prior and his colleagues adapted the package for use in the National Lung Screening Trial, and now they have modified it to build TCIA.