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Jul 1, 2014 (Vol. 34, No. 13)

Rising Interest in Biobank Deposits

  • Biobanking, already a critical resource for bioresearch and medicine, is becoming even more important. According to a forecast prepared by BCC Research, biobanking will represent a $183 billion worldwide market by 2015.

    Besides rising in value, biobanking is growing more complicated. Questions of science, ethics, administration, and business viability are all part of biobanking’s dynamic landscape. Multiple stakeholders including government, academia, industry, and patients are shaping the field’s policy and practices.

    All this ferment suggests that it is an opportune time to review the state of biobanking and identify emerging trends. Accordingly, many biobanking experts are planning to gather at the sixth annual Leaders in Biobanking Congress. This CHI event is scheduled to take place September 15–17 in Seattle.

    The event will cover both the business and the science of biobanking, prompting discussion of myriad topics including the  following developments:

    • Physician-researchers have begun banking viable tumor cells that can be revived later to inform cancer therapy and research.
    • Researchers are struggling to reconcile legacy consent conditions and emerging (and largely unanticipated) research options.
    • Informatics has the potential to streamline biosample procurement.
    • Affordable and effective room-temperature tissue preservation techniques may expand procurement options and even extend them to remote settings.

    A full exploration of the many issues in biobanking is beyond the scope of this article, but a sampling of notable items on the meeting agenda may provide directional insight and suggest resources for additional study.

  • Next-Gen Brain Freeze

    Click Image To Enlarge +
    Using frozen tissue remains the method of choice for characterizing the genome, transcriptome, and proteome. But frozen biospecimens, such as those stored in the freezer-boxed cryovials shown here, are neither foolproof nor economical. Room-temperature alternatives, say researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, may be more sustainable.

    Use of frozen tissue remains the method of choice for characterizing the genome, transcriptome, and proteome. This method, however, is costly and displays temperature-related degradation differences among nucleic acids that must be taken into account. It’s also far from foolproof, as researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have emphasized.

    In the May 2014 issue of Clinical Biochemistry, these researchers revisited the case of a freezer failure, apparently undetected by redundant alarm systems, that damaged one-third of the specimens in a national autism brain bank and numerous other brain specimens.

    “Storing samples in liquid nitrogen (LN2) poses rare but serious risks including LN2 burns, LN2 supply tank explosions, and suffocation from LN2 leaks in an enclosed space,” the authors wrote. “Finding adequate contiguous and practical space for banks of freezers or liquid nitrogen vats is extremely challenging at major medical and research institutions.”

    William H. Yong, M.D., Brain Tumor Translational Resource at the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, one of the authors of the UCLA study, is scheduled to deliver a presentation at the Biobanking Congress.

    “Frozen biospecimens, while superb for next-generation testing, are costly. In the current environment, increasing the collection and storage of such specimens is not sustainable,” says Dr. Yong. “While next-generation technologies are being developed to work within the limitations of FFPE, the limitations cannot be entirely overcome.”

    Nonetheless, Dr. Yong remains optimistic: “I believe that investment by national funding bodies and pharmaceutical institutions in developing broadly usable room-temperature biospecimen alternatives that permit high-quality whole-genome, transcriptome, proteome, and metabolome analyses will be rewarded by larger, more affordable pools of patient biospecimens for clinical trials of targeted therapy.”

    Dr. Yong’s talk will focus on brain tissue, but it is likely that much of his talk’s content will be derived from the UCLA overview he helped prepare. This overview, entitled “The procurement, storage, and quality assurance of frozen blood and tissue biospecimens in pathology, biorepository, and biobank settings,” addressed the following questions:

    • How quickly must we freeze a biospecimen?
    • Is the ubiquitous –80°C freezer really adequate to stabilize biospecimens, or is –150 °C storage superior?
    • How much does freeze-thawing, as occurs with removing specimens from freezers repeatedly, affect biospecimen degradation?
    • What is the basis for the quality assurance methodologies currently in use?

    The overview not only reflected an attempt to organize the fragmented and incomplete data on procurement and preservation of frozen biospecimens, it also summarized “infrastructure considerations for frozen biospecimen banking.”

  • Banking Viable Live Cells

    Click Image To Enlarge +
    Photomicrograph (200×) of proliferating salivary ductal carcinoma cells isolated from resected metastatic tumor. These cells may be frozen and viably stored for future studies. According to researchers at Yale University, the biobanking of viable cells can contribute to a range of applications from pre-testing in clinical trials to personalized medicine.

    Banking viable live tumor cells that can be revived later is a simple but powerful idea being enlisted in cancer research and treatment. Deep sequencing plus analysis of molecular defects may be carried out using frozen and fixed tissues, and this approach may yield finely detailed profiles. However, these profiles do not necessarily represent how a cell will respond to treatment.

    “We are preserving cells so that in the future they can be brought back and used in assays that require interaction with the cell,” says Wendell G. Yarbrough, M.D., Smilow Cancer Hospital, Yale University.

    “It’s not widely done now, but I think there is growing interest,” asserts Dr. Yarbrough. So far, Dr. Yarbrough has used the approach on two patients. One of them, a high-risk patient whose tumor was resected in the fall, chose not to undergo adjunct therapy. Six months after initial sequencing of the patient’s tumor, the cancer recurred.

    “A few mutations were initially found for which there are drugs [available to target] those pathways. We brought those cells back from their frozen state and began testing those cells with the different drugs,” explains Dr. Yarbrough.

    Banking viable cells is usually straightforward. A cellular suspension is made and cultured short-term—“zero to just a few passages, basically when there are adequate numbers.” Individual tumor types may have different culture requirements (such as special media). The cells are then frozen in liquid nitrogen. Among potential applications are personalized medicine, hypothesis generation, and pre-testing in clinical trials to prioritize which of a group of agents, singly or in combination, should be used.


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