Health & Healthcare

Biobanking in Australia: A critical juncture

Lisa Devereux, President of the Australasian Biospecimen Network Association

Lisa Devereux, President of the Australasian Biospecimen Network Association

Lisa Devereux, President of the Australasian Biospecimen Network Association talks about the evolution of biobanking in Australia.

The landscape for biobanking has changed significantly since I first became involved in 2001 – some two years after the Peter Mac established its biobank.

The Peter Mac biobank benefitted considerably from the expertise and protocols developed by the kConFab cohort for familial breast and ovarian cancer, established some years earlier by Prof Joe Sambrook and managed by Heather Thorne.

Cohorts are increasing in number across many disease streams as it is well recognised that, longitudinal outcome data is essential to extract value from the biospecimens collected.  The time for unannotated biospecimens has passed.

In the early 2000’s, the new Peter Mac Biobank was a critical tool in supporting some key research projects – the Unknown Primary project and the Gastric cancer cohort established by Prof David Bowtell and Assoc Prof Alex Boussioutas respectively.  It also collected and processed samples for clinical trials and basic hypothesis driven research.

At the time, the biobank was funded by a joint internal collaboration between the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre Research Division, Divisions of Haematology and Medical Oncology, and Surgical Oncology. It was enthusiastically supported by Prof Paul Waring as Head of Pathology.

The biobank collected samples across haematological and most solid tumour steams and developed close and valued support from pathologists and surgeons in both the public and private sectors.

The Peter Mac joined with Royal Melbourne, Monash Medical Centre and the Austin/Ludwig biobanks to form a consortium, which went on to be the core of the Victorian State Government funded Victorian Cancer Biobank.  In addition, the Peter Mac biobank was a founding member of the NH&MRC Enabling grant funded Australasian Biospecimen Network-Oncology project.  These two initiatives operated under quite different ‘business’ models.

Image source: viccancerbiobank.org.au

Image source: viccancerbiobank.org.au

The Victorian Cancer Biobank leveraged existing biobank infrastructure and staff to begin a collection under the control of VCB, and included funding for equipment, biobank staff and pathology registrars.  Samples were collected using a single consent form, and whilst storage continued at the four member sites, all applications for access and invoicing for cost recovery was managed by VCB.

The ABN-Oncology project, whilst leveraging existing infrastructure and expertise, provided more modest funding to enhance collection across key tumour streams.

The investment was intended to support identified, existing research as well as being ‘nimble’ to ensure support for emerging areas of research, including clinical trial support. Control over access and cost recovery remained vested in each member bank management committee.

The ABN-Onc project also developed software to provide a single point of contact for researchers so that they may easily find the biospecimens required for their specific research needs.  Protocols and documents are shared but not mandated.

Both models of biobank support have merit. The funding provided was vastly different by approximately five fold in the first round of funding.

What is critical at this point is that funding for biobanking infrastructure is rapidly diminishing at a time when the value of these collections is increasing.

Lisa spoke at the 2014 National Pathology Conference in Sydney. Her presentation discussed the ways in which cohorts and biobanks continue to contribute to translational and basic research, essential to the health of Australians.

To viewupcoming conference program and to register, please visit the National Pathology Conference website.

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