A biobank partnership with Truman Medical Center
February 06, 2015
By Laura Long
Innovative experiments occur on a daily basis in research labs. But innovative partnerships? Those are a little harder to find.
Yet the idea of a research partnership with Truman Medical Center, an academic hospital in Kansas City, Mo., took shape in The University of Kansas Cancer Center's biospecimen repository - a bank of biospecimens, such as blood, saliva and tissue, necessary to support the translational research taking place at the center
"Translational research takes what we learn in our labs and applies it to studies that can help patients," explains Andrew Godwin, Ph.D., director of the repository and deputy director of the KU Cancer Center. "Research like that can't happen without a diverse collection of carefully annotated biospecimens."
Although the biobank's collection of samples and data was steadily growing, Godwin felt strongly that cancer research being done in the Midwest and across the country would realize significant benefits from a network of regional biobanks across the heartland. At the time, NCI-affiliated biobanks in the region were limited to the one at the KU Cancer Center, The University of Iowa and Washington University in St Louis.
Godwin hoped to start the regional network off with a partner who already had strong surgical and clinical lab teams in place and could potentially help improve geographic and population diversity among the samples to help expand subject representation in cancer research. Less than 2 percent of clinical cancer research studies currently focus on ethnic groups, according to a recent study out of the University of California.
Godwin, along with the director of the KU Cancer Center, Roy Jensen, M.D., contacted Midwest Cancer Alliance (MCA), to discuss the possibility of a regional biobank network. The MCA is a membership-based organization of hospitals and research centers that links medical professionals and their patients to the KU Cancer Center research and services so that the latest care can be kept close to home. The concept of a regional biobank network was then presented to MCA's Partners Advisory Board, which included Mark McPhee, M.D., executive vice president for clinical coordination at Truman Medical Center.
Truman Medical Center was already participating in triple negative breast cancer registry project with the KU Cancer Center. McPhee was intrigued by the idea of an additional partnership that would utilize the skilled surgical and laboratory teams available at Truman, expand research capabilities at the hospital and benefit diverse populations in the Midwest. He invited Godwin and MCA's executive director, Hope Krebill, to meet with research leadership at Truman. The hospital's research team embraced the idea but there was a big obstacle.
"At that time," explained McPhee, "we had a lot of interest but very little space."
However, within months, a donation from the RA Bloch Cancer Foundation helped remove that hurdle. The gift kicked off a cancer center expansion at Truman that resulted in more space for treatment and research. A biobank lab quickly became part of the new facility's blueprints so that, when the Richard & Annette Bloch Cancer Center officially opened in February 2014, a dedicated space for the biobank was in place.
The MCA then stepped in to hire a research specialist who could help navigate the collaboration that would take place between the labs at Truman and the KU Cancer Center. Hanluen Kuo, formerly biorepository development leader for the KU Cancer Center, was chosen as the new MCA biobank coordinator.
"So far, I've been involved in everything from designing a collection process that fits each institution's needs to training prospective staff," said Kuo. "The opportunity to be a liaison between two terrific lab teams has been a remarkable experience."
Kuo has been working closely with Godwin's team along with Truman Medical Center's vice president of practice management, Dmeter Dragovich, and medicine specialty director, Jo Beth Herrick, as well as the recently hired Truman biobank lab specialist, Patrick Todd.
"The clinic officially opened at the end of 2014, but it's already going very well," said Herrick. "In a few short months we've already expanded the numbers and types of samples that are being collected and shared with other researchers in the region."
In fact, the Truman biobank has already delivered its first Cryobox of 100 lab samples to KU Cancer Center's biospecimen repository and anticipates sending at least one box a month, according to Todd.
Research studies that have utilized biobank samples from the region include a study on cancer variations among different demographics, an investigation into the transition of precancerous to cancerous cells and the genomic impact of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
"We couldn't have asked for a better partner to help kick off a regional biobank network," said Krebill. "The teamwork and dedication to improving cancer research from both Truman and KU is a clear indication of a mutual commitment to putting patients first."