News Ben Brown | 8 years ago

State of the art Biospecimen Repository Opens, Enhances Research in Personalized Medicine

Carolinas HealthCare System recently created a BioSpecimen Repository on its Mint Hill campus, which will ultimately enhance researchers’ understanding of how to more effectively treat a broad range of diseases. Carol J. Farhangfar, PhD, MBA, Assistant Vice President of Carolinas HealthCare System’s Tissue Procurement and Levine Cancer Institute’s Translational Research, is overseeing the development of the Repository and discusses its significance for providers and patients. Q: Why was the Biospecimen Repository created at CHS, and how will it enhance our research efforts? The BioSpecimen Repository (BSR) was created at CHS to provide a comprehensive, enterprise-wide system to collect, process, store, and distribute high quality biospecimens for clinical and translational research. It will enhance the capabilities of dedicated CHS investigators and enable the evolution of CHS into a nationally recognized clinical service provider that can leverage tissues and other biospecimens to help us understand a broad range of diseases. The goal is to create a unified, cost-effective approach with minimal impact on the clinical teams and our patients, while also ensuring the quality of the samples. Molecular analyses requires very high quality samples and we want to make sure that we can acquire as much information as possible. The samples are very precious! Q: What is personalized medicine? How will it impact the way we treat patients? Some may feel that we have always been doing personalized medicine and, in a way, this is true. Doctors have always treated patients as individuals and take into account their symptoms, history and other individual characteristics. However, studies have been done on large groups and treatments approved based on these studies of large heterogeneous cohorts. “Personalized medicine” is a term used for treating patients and their tumors based on the molecular make-up of their tumor(s). This is also called “individualized medicine” or “precision medicine”. By letting the biology of the patient’s tumor(s) tell us about what went wrong in the cells (e.g., mutations from sun damage), we will know how to better treat the patient safely and effectively. Q: What are some unique features of the Repository? There are a number of Biospecimen repositories around the world, many in large academic medical centers. Our BioSpecimen Repository is one of the first to collect samples from a diverse population of patients located across many clinical care facilities. We also had custom software developed to link the barcode for the specimen as it is acquired in the lab or surgical/radiology suite to the clinical and pathologic data and to track the sample at each step during the acquisition, processing and storage similar to being able to track a package you purchase online – knowing what was done where at every step and by whom. We also track the temperature of each specimen during any transport step necessary to get it to the site in Mint Hill using small USB devices. These steps are essential given the large geographic area and number of sites we support. Q: Briefly discuss the significance of our collaboration with researchers at UNCC. Why is this ‘sharing of ideas’ important? We have been very fortunate to be able to start collaborations with professors at UNCC, even before we opened the new facility. I am very excited about the opportunities. The BSR is collaborating with Dr. Gloria Elliott, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UNCC, on ways to store and transport samples better. One of the big challenges facing all biorepositories is that samples start to degrade immediately after acquisition from the patient. Dr. Elliott has unique approaches that she has been developing to store samples in a dried state or new additives to stabilize samples so they do not need dry ice and liquid nitrogen or have to be processed or transported immediately. Finding new approaches to handle specimens in states not requiring such care would enable a collection of samples from a much more diverse population away from major cities and enable molecular tests to be done on patients in this location as well. We also support investigator-initiated studies with Levine Cancer Institute and one of these studies, Dr. Stuart Salmon’s pancreatic cancer study, has a collaboration with Dr. Pinku Mukherjee, Professor of Biological Sciences at UNCC, and her company, CanDiag, a local biotech company that has developed novel assays to detect cancer or response to a treatment earlier from a simple blood test. We are also aiding her with sample transport studies necessary for one of her diagnostic tests to go for approval at the FDA. These are just a few examples of the collaborations that are beginning with UNCC and local biotech companies. Working together will help CHS, UNCC, and the local biotech companies accomplish their goals which will hopefully lead to Charlotte, CHS, and UNCC become recognized as a place that does cutting-edge research. Working together on common interests, we can accomplish much more than individually.   [gallery type="slideshow" link="none" columns="1" ids="721,720,719,718"]