vom 15.09.2023

Global guidelines to improve the quality of microscopy images in scientific publications

As part of a global initiative, researchers have drawn up guidelines for the publication of microscopy images in scientific outlets. The criteria, summarized in the form of checklists, form the basis for ensuring that published images in the field of life sciences and medicine are intelligible and reproducible. This is the only way to unlock their full potential for research. The results achieved by a group led by a scientist at NCT/UCC Dresden and University Medicine Dresden are likely to influence global publication practice regarding microscopy images. They were published in the Nature Methods journal.

The National Center for Tumor Diseases Dresden (NCT/UCC) is a joint institution of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus Dresden, the Faculty of Medicine Carl Gustav Carus of TU Dresden and the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR).

More than a million scientific papers are published in the life sciences and medicine each year. Around a third of them include images, such as photos of cells or tissues. However, most of these images cannot be fully understood by the target audience, for example because scale information is missing. Moreover, many lack information about how exactly the images were produced, preventing other researchers from reproducing comparable images. 

Now, as part of the global initiative on Quality Assessment and Reproducibility for Instruments and Images in Light Microscopy, a specialist working group has drawn up communication guidelines, particularly for microscopy images and image analysis data.

“Scientists around the world and leading scientific journals have signaled an urgent need for publication standards for microscopy images,” says Dr. Helena Jambor, the initiator of the working group responsible for the guidelines, who is also the last author of the scientific paper and works as a scientist at the National Center for Tumor Diseases Dresden (NCT/UCC) and at University Medicine Dresden. “These guidelines need to be drawn up by researchers because they know best which quality criteria are particularly important for their work. We have now succeeded in achieving a broad consensus, involving researchers from many of the world’s leading institutes in the life sciences.” 

The main criteria are summarized in clear checklists to be followed when publishing microscopy images. They include, for instance, making sure that relevant image sections are selected, that color channels are named in fluorescence microscopy images, and that the colors chosen can be distinguished by readers who are color blind. Many publications also present results of image analyses. In these cases, it is important that authors describe precisely how the data were generated, for instance which software solutions and input commands were used, and that sample data are available to check the results. In general, images should be made available to the scientific community in suitable databases in such a way that they can be used for further research. 

“The guidelines are aimed at all researchers who work with light microscopy, from beginners to experts,” says Dr. Christopher Schmied, the first author of the research paper, who works as a scientist at the Human Technopole Foundation in Milan and at the Leibniz-Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP) in Berlin. “They enable the publication of images and image analysis results that meet high quality standards, are reproducible and therefore plausible, and provide a good basis for further research projects.”

Within the checklists, the criteria are split into three levels so that users can choose between minimal, recommended and ideal requirements for good image communication. “Our goal is for the criteria to be used by leading scientific journals as binding standards for publication,” says Dr. Jambor. “The chances of this are good. The members of the global initiative are constantly updating the checklists. And we will also be developing communication training materials and tutorials for microscopy images.”

“Microscopy images and image analyses are playing an increasingly important role for research, in part because of the technological advances in recent years,” says Prof. Michael Albrecht, Medical Director of University Hospital Dresden. “In order to be able to exploit this potential to the full, it is important to have uniform standards for publication. We are delighted that Dresden scientists are leading key efforts in this area.”

About the initiative on Quality Assessment and Reproducibility for Instruments and Images in Light Microscopy 
The initiative launched in April 2020 and now has nearly 550 members worldwide, including experts in image science and image analysis, microscope manufacturers and scientific publishers. The members are involved in 15 working groups that focus on specific topics. The working group responsible for drawing up the publication guidelines for microscopy images presented here is the Image Visualization and Analysis group, which is led by Dr. Helena Jambor and Dr. Christopher Schmied and involves around 100 experts from all continents. 

Schmied, C., Nelson, M.S., Avilov, S. et al. Community-developed checklists for publishing images and image analyses. Nat Methods (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41592-023-01987-9 
A print-quality photo is available to accompany the press release:

Precise information about scale and about the origins of image sections are among the quality criteria for the publication of microscopy images. © Helena Jambor and Christopher Schmied

Notice of use for image material for press releases
Usage is free. The NCT/UCC Dresden permits one-time use in connection with reporting on the topic of the press release. Please enter the copyright © Helena Jambor and Christopher Schmied. The image material may only be passed on to third parties after prior consultation with NCT/UCC Communications (phone: +49 351 458 5548, e-mail: anna.kraft@nct-dresden.de). Use for commercial purposes is prohibited.

Press contact:
Dr. Anna Kraft
National Center for Tumor Diseases Dresden (NCT/UCC)
Press and Public Relations
Tel: +49 (0)351 458-5548
E-mail: anna.kraft@nct-dresden.de 

Dr. Sibylle Kohlstädt
German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)
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Tel.: +49 (0)6221 42-2854
E-mail: s.kohlstaedt@dkfz.de

Stephan Wiegand
Public Relations & Marketing Department
Carl Gustav Carus Medical Faculty of Dresden University of Technology
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E-mail: stephan.wiegand@tu-dresden.de

Holger Ostermeyer
University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus Dresden
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E-Mail: Pressestelle@uniklinikum-dresden.de

Simon Schmitt
Communication and Media | Management and Press Spokesman
Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf
E-Mail: s.schmitt@hzdr.de 
Tel.: +49 351 260-3400

National Center for Tumor Diseases Dresden (NCT/UCC)
The National Center for Tumor Diseases Dresden (NCT/UCC) is a joint institution of the German Cancer Research Center, the Carl Gustav Carus Faculty of Medicine at TU Dresden, the Carl Gustav Carus University Hospital Dresden and the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR).
The NCT has made it its duty to closely link research and patient care wherever possible. That is why cancer patients at the NCT sites can be treated based on the latest research results. At the same time, the proximity of laboratory and clinic provides researchers with important impulses for their practice-oriented research. The NCT sites share the common goal of developing the NCT into a top international center for patient-oriented cancer research. The Dresden center draws on the structures of the University Cancer Center Dresden (UCC), which was founded in 2003 as one of the first Comprehensive Cancer Centers (CCC) in Germany. Since 2007, the UCC has been honored by the German Cancer Aid e.V. (DKH) as a "Top Oncological Center" on a continuous basis.

German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ)
The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institution in Germany. More than 1,300 scientists at the DKFZ investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and search for new strategies to prevent people from developing cancer. They are developing new methods to diagnose tumors more precisely and treat cancer patients more successfully. The DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides patients, interested citizens and experts with individual answers to all questions on cancer.
Jointly with partners from the university hospitals, the DKFZ operates the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg and Dresden, and the Hopp Children's Cancer Center KiTZ in Heidelberg. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of the six German Centers for Health Research, the DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partner locations. NCT and DKTK sites combine excellent university medicine with the high-profile research of the DKFZ. They contribute to the endeavor of transferring promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improving the chances of cancer patients.
The DKFZ is 90 percent financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and 10 percent by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.

University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus Dresden
The University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus Dresden offers medical care at the highest level of care. As a full-service hospital, it covers the entire spectrum of modern medicine. The University Hospital combines 20 clinics and outpatient departments, four institutes and ten interdisciplinary centers that collaborate closely with the clinical and theoretical institutes of the Faculty of Medicine.
With 1,295 beds and 160 places for day-care treatment, the Dresden University Hospital is the largest hospital in the city and also the only full-service hospital in eastern Saxony. Around 860 doctors cover the entire spectrum of modern medicine. 1,860 nurses and caregivers ensure the patients' well-being. The medical care of patients suffering from cancer, metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases is an important focus of treatment at the University Hospital.

Carl Gustav Carus Faculty of Medicine at Technische Universität Dresden
The Dresden University Medicine, consisting of the Carl Gustav Carus Faculty of Medicine and the university hospital of the same name, has specialized in research in the fields of oncology, metabolic as well as neurological and psychiatric diseases. Within these focal areas, the topics of degeneration and regeneration, imaging and technology development, immunology and inflammation, as well as prevention and health care research are of particular interest. International exchange is a prerequisite for top-level research - the Dresden University Medical Center embraces this concept with employees from 73 nations and numerous collaborations with researchers and teams from all over the world.

Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR)
The Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) conducts research in the fields of energy, health and matter. It focuses on the following questions:
•    How can energy and resources be used in an efficient, safe and sustainable way?
•    How can cancer be better visualized, characterized and effectively treated?
•    How do matter and materials react under the influence of strong fields and in smallest dimensions?
To answer these scientific questions, the HZDR operates large infrastructures that are also used by external measurement guests: Ion Beam Center, High Field Magnetic Laboratory Dresden and ELBE Center for High Power Radiation Sources.
The HZDR is a member of the Helmholtz Association, has five sites (Dresden, Freiberg, Grenoble, Leipzig, Schenefeld near Hamburg) and employs almost 1,200 people - about 500 of whom are researchers including 170 PhD students.