2998, 2999 … 3000 consents for the HSA Biobank

14 January 2019
Biobank freezers

If you’d been tallying up the number of patients agreeing to donate tissue samples and linked health data to the HSA Biobank, you’d be forgiven for losing count. That’s because the HSA Biobank team recently celebrated their 3000th consent in the name of cancer research.  

The 3000th consent – the 3000th time that a patient at a participating hospital has agreed to contribute tissue and linked health data to the biobank – marks a major milestone for one of the most significant translational cancer research resources in New South Wales.

The consent coincides with the launch of a new breast cancer biobanking stream at St George Hospital – the latest expansion of the HSA Biobank program in Sydney-area hospitals. Consent procedures and tissue collection processes have now been embedded in the hospital’s pre-surgical and surgical breast cancer workflows, providing a valuable opportunity to boost capacity in this critical area of cancer research. 

“Patients have been keen to participate knowing that it can help others in the future. The liaison between the biobank and St George for clinicians has been positive and as this is an already established relationship with other clinicians I envisage will continue,” says Alison Szwajcer, Breast Care Nurse Consultant at St George Hospital’s Cancer Care Centre, who has been actively involved in establishing the breast stream program.

The St George breast stream joins a substantial list of HSA Biobank consent and collection programs that have been established at public and private hospitals in New South Wales, including Royal Hospital for Women and Prince of Wales Private Hospital, as well as Border Medical in Victoria. Samples span multiple cancer types, from gynaecological cancers and sarcoma to upper and lower gastrointestinal, peritoneal and breast cancers.

Established in 2012, the HSA Biobank represented a new resource for cancer research in NSW. Today, the bank houses more than 13,000 specimens from patients who have agreed to provide tumour, blood and saliva samples, as well as MBS and PBS data.

Unlike similar biobanks, the HSA model accepts samples representing a wide range of cancers, which are then made available to translational cancer researchers working anywhere in Australia. Since its inception, the biobank has been designed as a low-cost, highly accessible research resource that seeks to improve cancer diagnostics, treatment and outcomes.

Dr Jeremy Henson is a cancer researcher based at the Prince of Wales Clinical School at UNSW. He is currently developing a blood test for cancer based on a novel biomarker. Dr Henson has accessed the HSA Biobank for numerous projects and says it has proved to be an invaluable resource, both from a scientific and logistical perspective. 

“Blood specimens from the biobank have been invaluable for determining where the biomarker is in the blood, which was not quite where we expected, and has allowed us to optimise the blood test so that we are now achieving good specificity and sensitivity,” he says.

“Blood and matching tumour specimens from the HSA Biobank are allowing us to validate our blood test and show it works well.

“Beyond the lab, recruiting volunteers and collecting samples requires significant resources, which is difficult for research groups with tight budgets. The HSA makes utilising patient samples a viable option for our group and makes the whole process much more efficient. This allows us to translate our research towards helping patients.”