Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Future of Biobanking Relies on the Quality and Viability of Biospecimens

The theme of collaboration carried over into day three and four presentations at the ISBER Annual Meeting, from the role of industry in biobanking and the importance of collaboration between academia and the corporate sector to the importance of global biobank networking. Throughout the conference, in asides by presenters and conversations among attendees, another theme began to emerge: the lack of information about quality and viability of biospecimens.
  • A roundtable led by Dr. Mark Cosentino of NCI Frederick was tasked with addressing the topic "Repository Science: Establishing a New Scientific Discipline." A packed table engaged in a discussion that covered degree types, funding, and oversight of educational programs to train repository scientists, but talk quickly turned to curriculum: how can biobanking scientists be trained without knowledge of appropriate biospecimen processing, handling, and storage for a variety of analyses? Participants were unanimous that much more information on biospecimen science is absolutely essential to train effective biobanking scientists.
  • At poster sessions, there was a similar sentiment – not only is more information needed about biospecimen science, it is needed through a consolidated, open access resource. After walking me through her poster on varying RNA levels in breast tumor tissues collected by different protocols, Rebecca Barnes of the British Columbia Cancer Agency’s Tumor Tissue Repository noted that studies like hers were being performed by other researchers around the world, but it is difficult to know who is studying what and what the results mean without a clearinghouse or forum for information sharing.
  • Carolyn Compton of OBBR at NCI and David Horsfall of the Australian Prostate Cancer Bioresource presided over a panel of speakers whose talks addressed the impacts of packaging, fixation, specimen type, and length of storage on biomarkers. One of the key panel presentations was given by Barbara O’Brien of Westat; she presented a study that focuses on stability testing of biospecimens in conjunction with the National Children’s Study (NCS). NCS will examine the effects of environmental influences on the health and development of 100,000 children in a 21-year longitudinal cohort, beginning pre-conception with sample collection and analysis from parents. The collection schedule and length of study mean that NCS will collect literally millions of samples in the first years of the study. To ensure the validity of data generated from these biospecimens, Westat will undertake long-term stability testing of samples collected from parents of study subjects. Sample specimens to be assessed include urine, saliva, vaginal secretions, hair, blood and blood derivatives, toenails, and breast milk, and Westat will evaluate the stability of dozens of analytes in each of these matrices over the course of the 21-year study. The results of this assessment will add a considerable body of evidence to the field of biobanking and biospecimen research.
The success of biobanking as a tool in fighting disease requires more insight into the properties of different types of biospecimens and how these should be collected, processed, and stored to preserve key biomarkers. Piece-meal studies alone would not address this need; instead, a coordinated effort, with data sharing and public access to findings, is necessary to ensure that this knowledge is appropriately applied. We look forward to ISBER’s leadership in paving the way to bridging this critical gap in scientific knowledge.

-- Kate Blenner, FasterCures, Program Analyst

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