HSA Biobank series: Transforming translational cancer research

17 October 2013
TCRN - HSA Biobank: translational research

A new biobanking initiative being championed by the Translational Cancer Research Network will celebrate its 1000th tissue donation this week.

The HSA Biobank is a joint initiative of the University of New South Wales ("UNSW") and the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District ("SESLHD"). It is based on infrastructure provided by UNSW, and its work is facilitated by a consortium of clinicians, pathologists, researchers and support staff at those sites. The Cancer Institute NSW have also supported the development of the HSA. Unlike typical biobanks, which are usually developed to collect specific tissue types for designated research projects, the HSA Biobank houses tumour and DNA derived from blood and saliva samples from a wide range of cancer patient groups. These are then made available for use in translational cancer research projects anywhere in Australia.

The HSA Biobank provides a solution to these issues by making tissue samples and associated health data available to research teams across the country.”

Researchers seeking tissue for cancer-related projects will be able to place an order for specific types of tumour tissue, provided they have received ethics clearance. The samples and de-identified data will be distributed on a cost recovery basis to the researcher.  

Samples for the biobank are currently being collected from Sydney’s Royal Hospital for Women, the Prince of Wales Hospital and Prince of Wales Private, with expansion to St George in the coming months. Under a current pre-operative consent model, patients undergoing surgery for a known or suspected cancer are being offered the opportunity to contribute to the biobank by their treating surgeon.

Embedding consent into routine clinical care processes is an important part of ensuring the sustainability of the biobank into the future, according to Professor Phil Crowe, Head of Surgery at the Prince of Wales Hospital.

We’re trying to make research part of routine care.  By making it simpler for the patient to make a contribution to research by allowing researchers access to their tissue, our understanding of disease and the development of new treatments will be improved,” says Crowe.

This integrative approach will hopefully minimise unmanageable costs and complicated administrative processes. The ultimate aim is to develop a resource that puts the focus firmly on collaborative research.” 

This week, the 1000th patient will consent to donating tissue to the biobank. The milestone is testament to the early success of the initiative and the commitment of patients, hospital staff, and researchers to making a meaningful contribution to cancer research in Australia.

While the bank itself is housed at the Lowy Biorepository at UNSW, it is being developed to be independent of any one organisation in order to provide the greatest possible benefit for the Australian cancer research community. It will also play a key role in strengthening relationships between cancer researchers and clinicians.

We want the HSA Biobank to become a resource around which there is a collective sense of ownership, but to do that we need to acknowledge that researchers and clinicians have very different drivers for engaging with these sorts of hospital-based research initiatives,” says Hawkins.

The relationship between researchers and clinicians is actually very symbiotic – medical researchers depend on clinicians for access to the hospital, for tasks like acquiring tissue samples or patient data, so it’s important that the nature of that relationship is reflected in the way we set up the biobank.”

From a clinical perspective, contributing to biobank processes is an important part of the patient care journey.

Clinicians depend on research to provide the evidence that will help them treat their patients effectively. With that in mind, it’s important for us to play a role in supporting biobanking that will help improve our understanding of cancer and cancer care, with ultimate benefit to our patients,” Crowe says.

Researchers in NSW have started accessing samples from the HSA Biobank, and formal processes by which researchers can access tissue and data will be finalised in early 2014.