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Open-source solution tackles complete terminology management


The complexity of standard radiology terminologies such as RadLex makes them difficult to manage. Few specialized tools are available to help developers browse, visualize, and edit large taxonomies.

The complexity of standard radiology terminologies such as RadLex makes them difficult to manage. Few specialized tools are available to help developers browse, visualize, and edit large taxonomies.Researchers at Stanford University have created Protégé, an open-source solution that allows developers to create and manage terminologies and ontologies (J Digit Imaging 2007 Aug 9; [Epub ahead of print]). "RadLex was initially developed using word processors and spreadsheets, but it soon became evident that these tools were not suitable for distributing RadLex on the web or for making it accessible to applications," said Dr. Daniel L. Rubin, a clinical assistant professor of radiology at Stanford and scientific director of the National Center of Biomedical Ontology. RadLex is a program for development of a comprehensive radiology lexicon announced last November by University of Pennsylvania radiologist Dr. Curtis P. Langlotz (Radiographics 2006;26(6):1595-1597). It is available free through the RSNA. RadLex developers recently adopted Protégé for managing its terminology.Rubin said RadLex contains many attributes associated with each term, making it difficult to maintain this information in correct structured form as RadLex grows. A tool tailored to the needs of terminology development and dissemination in radiology was needed."RadLex meets the needs of the radiology community by providing standard terminology to describe all radiology information, and computer applications that use RadLex can help radiologists create better radiology reports, permit researchers to mine clinical databases, and enable the community to search for relevant case material," Rubin said.

Rubin said Protégé is of interest to three user groups:

  • Terminology developers. Protégé provides graphical user interfaces for browsing and editing large RadLex terminology tree structures and mapping terms to other related terminologies.
  • Computer application developers. Those who want to leverage the power of controlled terminology for radiology reporting, image search, and other applications can use Protégé to access RadLex and integrate this with the rest of their functionality. For example, users might use Protégé to map unstructured text to RadLex and add structure to radiology reports or create an intelligent computer application that integrates information for radiologists at their workstations.
  • The radiology community. Many new terminology-enabled applications that clinicians and researchers will use in the future could run on the Protégé platform. "You can think of Protégé as a piece of infrastructure supporting use of terminology in radiology," Rubin said. "Without Protégé or a similar tool for accessing terminologies, such applications would not have been possible."

There are more than 70,000 registered Protégé users employing the system to manage terminologies and ontologies in many different domains.

Since Protégé is open-source, Rubin expects that software developers will continue contributing specialized Protégé plug-ins specifically geared to radiology, as they have for other biomedical domains, thereby benefiting the entire radiology community.

For more online information, refer to Diagnostic Imaging's



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