HSA Biobank series: New consent procedure signals positive change for HSA Biobank processes

24 April 2014
HSA Biobank Series

A new consenting process is set to dramatically improve the numbers of patients who are given the opportunity to contribute tissue samples to the HSA Biobank.

The new method sees clinical staff, rather than external research staff, talking patients through the biobank consent process as part of routine hospital procedures. This approach, which focuses on the existing relationship between clinicians and patients, is already having a resounding impact on the number of patients being consented.

“Previously, a research nurse has been responsible for working with patients to explain the process of biobanking consent after their operation,” says Professor Nick Hawkins, Head of the School of Medical Sciences at UNSW who has been a long-term champion of the biobank project.

“However, our aim is to embed biobanking consent into normal patient care processes, which means creating a consent model that can be fully integrated within existing hospital systems.

This model, in which clinicians walk patients through the consenting process during their routine pre-surgical consultation, is proving to be beneficial.”

Patients who are undergoing surgery for cancer or other related conditions are being given the opportunity to participate in the biobank initiative as part of a series of pilot programs currently being conducted at Sydney’s Royal Hospital for Women, Prince of Wales Hospital, and St George Hospital. Tumour samples and DNA derived from blood or saliva will be collected from patients, and a wide variety of cancer types will be stored in the bank. These samples will then be made available for use by translational cancer research teams anywhere in Australia.

According to surgical fellow Richard Smith, the role of clinicians and their existing rapport with prospective biobank participants is a crucial part of the process.

“Surgeons often have a level of trust and rapport with the patient in the build-up to the patient consenting to undergo an operation. The patient is therefore more likely to feel comfortable communicating with their surgeon to ask questions or express any concerns they may have,” Smith says.

“It’s also far less time consuming to discuss biobank consent and complete the consent form during  the period of pre-admission or admission for that procedure, rather than having a separate consultation at a later stage.”

While Smith acknowledges that clinicians are typically very time-poor, he says that the value of hospital-based research makes it a worthwhile endeavour in terms of improving patient outcomes and advancing the field of cancer research.

“As clinicians we have unique access to patients and their tissues. It is easy to focus on our day-to-day practice, but we mustn't lose sight of the lab work that makes all the rapid advances in our understanding of tumour biology possible. By contributing to the biobank we can ensure that treatment of cancer and other disease will continue to evolve and improve,” he says.

Funded by UNSW (the University of New South Wales), with support from NSW Health Pathology and the Cancer Institute NSW, the HSA Biobank is a collaborative hospital-based research initiative being driven by a consortium of researchers, clinicians and support staff at UNSW and the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District.

The next phase of the project will see the template for consent procedures applied at other hospitals across New South Wales. A number of projects using HSA Biobank samples are currently being conducted by researchers in NSW, and formal processes by which researchers can access tissue and data will be finalised in  2014.

Read other articles in the HSA Biobank series: