Important Research Enabler Available for NCRC and University of Michigan Health System
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University of Michigan Health System Central Biorepository

NCRC is delighted to welcome its latest tenant, a centralized Biorepository program sponsored by the Medical School Office of Research.

victoria blanc[pullquote align=”right”]“Michigan is a world-class research institution. The faculty and their studies should be supported by high-quality, biospecimens safely stored and processed. I am excited and honored to be part of the team that builds the centralized UMHS Biorepository resource.” -Dr. Victoria Blanc, Director, Biorepository[/pullquote]Many scientists at U-M and other research institutions store valuable biomedical samples for their research within their own laboratories, but space is often limited. Samples may be stored at ultralow temperatures in specialized freezers, but the quality and stability of these samples can vary from freezer to freezer. This approach can be expensive, inefficient and may lead to biospecimens with little research value if they have deteriorated over time.

Methods for assessing quality of biological specimens can also vary from lab to lab, resulting in a lack of uniform and easily comparable parameters for measuring sample integrity, and when samples are stored in independent labs, there is an absence of a common information technology platform to catalog and link the collections. The true value of these biospecimens to a broader range of biomedical researchers is not realized, due simply to a lack of knowledge of their existence. In addition, inconsistent consent management can make it difficult to allow samples and phenotypic/outcomes data to be merged between studies.

The University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) Central Biorepository serves as a key enabler of strategic research within UMHS. The program will create a secure location for the storage and processing of human biological specimens obtained as part of Institutional Review Board-approved studies, and will bring consistency across UMHS.

Dr. Victoria Blanc has been appointed the director of the new Biorepository program. She received her PhD in 2000 in Biology from U-M, and prior to re-joining the University she served as vice president and general manager of US operations for Asterand, a commercial Biorepository in Detroit. While serving as director at Asterand, Dr. Blanc shaped that program to become, at the time, one of only 14 biorepositories nationally to receive accreditation from the College of American Pathologists, a goal that she aims to match at U-M.

“Michigan is a world-class research institution. The faculty and their studies should be supported by high-quality, biospecimens safely stored and processed. I am excited and honored to be part of the team that builds the centralized UMHS Biorepository resource,” she says.

The chosen location at NCRC is ideal for fostering interactions with other research groups already on site. Groups such as the Genomics core and the Translational Oncology Program are expected to benefit greatly from the Biorepository. The new Biorepository will begin with four pilot programs committed to test-bedding the processes for implementation of the Biorepository and associated information systems. Building renovations will be completed in October of this year; the Biorepository is expected to open in mid-2014.

Key requirements for the Biorepository include the capability to query across U-M biorepositories to identify patients or samples that meet the needs of specific, protocol-driven research, effective management of informed consent for study subjects, integration with Electronic Medical Records and Clinical Trials Systems, and IT solutions for labs to receive, store, process, and record results. Currently there is no way to query the catalog of collections, and no common platform that connects them. Limited interfaces across IT systems mean extensive manual entry, and there is no easy way for researchers to find samples and identify handoffs, and no plan for collections when investigators lose funding.

“Our faculty underscored the need for a world class Biorespoitory at Michigan and we are well on the way to making this a reality.” said Steven L. Kunkel, PhD, Senior Associate Dean for Research in the Medical School “It’s very exciting for us to have recruited Dr. Blanc to take the reins and direct this effort; she is clearly the right person to manage this important effort.  The effect of our Biorepository on both basic science discovery and clinical research will be palpable.”

Collocating these specimens at NCRC will allow the long-term storage of valuable specimens with advanced power backup, fire control, temperature monitoring and alarm systems, and will be more efficient and cost effective for both the institution and for individual investigators. A centralized biological repository for controlled storage of biological samples, and related services (including DNA and RNA, extractions, as well as other downstream preparation) within the U-M campus will provide a great opportunity for scientists needing access to high quality biospecimens for their research that would otherwise have been virtually impossible to obtain.

Dean Kunkel adds, “We are ready to lead in providing a Core service to our faculty that will be a true asset to the Medical School and across campus for years to come. I am very proud of the efforts of many in the Office of Research and in partnership with the Dean and the chairs of the Medical School Departments who have supported this important initiative.”

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