“The Best Biobank Is an Empty Biobank”: Ensuring High-Quality Biospecimens for Research

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Ann Nguyen:

Hello. We're here for a podcast from Cambridge Healthtech Institute for 2015's Leaders in Biobanking Congress, running July 14-16 in Toronto, Canada. I'm Ann Nguyen, the Associate Conference Producer. We're happy to be talking with Dr. Suzanne Vercauteren today. She's the Head of the Division of Hematopathology at BC Children's Hospital and Clinical Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of British Columbia. Suzanne, thanks for carving out some time for us.

Suzanne Vercauteren:

You're very welcome. It's my pleasure to be here.

Ann Nguyen:

What are you research and project goals at your organizations, and what resources are there to support them?

Suzanne Vercauteren:

So we are an institutional biobank at BC Children's Hospital with the mission to provide good-quality annotated biospecimens for research purposes. Our ultimate goal is to improve the health and quality of life for children in Canada and all around the world. My personal research interest is to determine qualities and guidelines regarding the participation of children in research and biobanks, and establish an ethical approach with regard to consenting, assenting, reconsenting and other issues specific to participation of children in biobanks. We are very lucky that on this side, we do have resources to support us. We are a campus where we have a research institute as well as a hospital presence and the BC Children's Hospital Foundation, thanks to the Mining for Miracles have provided us with resources to set up this institutional biobank.

Ann Nguyen:

The principles of the BCCH Biobank include public engagement as well as long-term sustainability and high-quality specimens. How did they drive its collection and storage of biospecimens and clinical data?

Suzanne Vercauteren:

I believe that in order for the biobank to be successful, we must have the trust and buy-in of our participants. We have well-trained staff for consenting to ensure the participants are well-informed, and we always try to improve on our processes by soliciting feedback from our participants, physicians and researchers. High-quality specimens are key to the success of any biobank, as you need researchers to use your bank. The best bank is an empty bank. Therefore, we have adapted our SOPs, standard operating procedures, from the Canadian Tissue Repository Network and ISBER International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories. We perform quality control and, as mentioned above, solicit feedback from our customers.

Sustainability is very important, but a very difficult goal to obtain in the biobanking world. We have been very fortunate to receive a generous donation from the BC Children's Hospital Foundation and the Mining community in BC. Before we started operations, we hired a consultant for a business plan, which included a map of current biobanking practices on our site, future needs for our site, and a careful laid-out 10-year budget. We aliquot all our samples so that they can be used for multiple research studies and try to limit the amount of manipulations. Most tissues and blood are frozen fresh and we do not extract DNA or RNA unless specifically requested by researchers, so not to waste the valuable resources and to allow a wide range of uses.

We charge a fee to our users which is supposed to be a cost-recovery fee, but we are currently not there yet. We offer numerous services including consenting and processing and also storing for specific studies. Last year, we generated more income than we budgeted for, and we are confident we are on the right track scientifically, financially and ethically.

Ann Nguyen:

Your talk on July 16 is about “Planning and Implementing an Institutional Biobank for Children and Women: Ethical and Operational Consideration”. What's the main message that you'd like to convey to your audience?

Suzanne Vercauteren:

My main message that I would like to convey is that the success of an implementation of an institutional biobank comes from careful business planning, governance, transparency and consultation with experts; for example, your ethics boards, other biobankers, the researchers who use your specimens. I think the most important part is to engage the public and engage the children. Once they are aware what a biobank is, they are actually very happy to contribute. I think education is one of the most important parts as well.

Ann Nguyen:

Well, thank you, Suzanne. As you know, you've spoken for us before, on pediatric biobanks and ethical decision-making around them. So, it's good to hear another angle on your work today, and we're looking forward to learning still more this summer.

Suzanne Vercauteren:

Thank you very much. I look forward to seeing you in July.

Ann Nguyen:

That was Dr. Suzanne Vercauteren of BC Children's Hospital and the University of British Columbia. She'll be sharing her latest work during the session, Specialty Biobanks, at the Leaders in Biobanking Congress taking place July 14-16 in Toronto. Visit www.BiobankingCongress.com to learn more about her and other speakers' presentations plus registration info, and enter the keycode "Podcast". This is Ann Nguyen. Thank you for listening.