AAA Resources: An Update on the Virtual Microscopy Database

It’s been five years since Haviva M. Goldman, Michael Hortsch and Lisa M.J. Lee won the first ever AAA Innovation Grant and developed the Virtual Microscopy Database (VMD).

The need for the VMD came about gradually, as visual technology got better and better and more colleges and universities moved away from buying expensive microscopes and storing boxes of tissue slides, Hortsch explained.

“It required a lot of specialized equipment and few universities had the capability. But computer files can be shared,” he said, “We still needed an infrastructure to make it available to teachers, so we had the idea of a shared database where they can put the slides and it’s available worldwide, especially for developing countries.”

Since its’ launch in 2017, this centralized repository of virtual tissue slides has collected more than 3,670 image files from 24 different collections from countries in North and South America, Asia, Europe, and Australia. Most of the images are light micrographs with some electron micrographs. While the majority of images are of normal tissues, there are some pathological slides in the collection and even some veterinary ones.

The success of the VMD and the growing body of assets represent a worldwide community of anatomy and histology scholars and researchers who want to share their assets to enhance education, research and scholarship.

“One thing that surprised me was how the VMD generated interest and excitement in resource sharing among educators,” Lee said. “Ever since VMD has launched, we’ve gotten requests for consultation and involvement and how to create similar repositories for resource sharing. I think we energized the idea of resource sharing.”

The VMD is open to university faculty or researchers from nonprofit organizations and is free for both AAA members and nonmembers. Today there are more than 1,943 users from 100 different countries.

“The purpose of database is to allow educators to access and utilize these slides and create new educational materials,” Goldman said. “We’ve run a couple of surveys over time and gotten feedback from faculty on the various ways they’ve used them to create really cool materials.”

During the pandemic, the value of the VMD became especially apparent. “VMD has been called a ‘lifesaver’ by some users) during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hortsch said. “Many colleagues had to shift their histology teaching online and the VMD provided them with digital material. We had a noticeable rise in applications at the beginning of the pandemic.”

While the VMD is the largest repository of histology, Goldman, Hortsch and Lee said they “could always use more variety and volume,” especially in the abnormal pathology area. Interested donors are encouraged to submit digital tissue slides for inclusion in the VMD.

The VMD is financed by AAA and supported by MBF Bioscience, with technical support from Realistic Computing.

Learn more about the VMD or apply for your own VMD subscription.

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