Health Care, Nonprofits, and Technology

VAI expands biorepository for Saint Mary's, Mercy Health patients

October 18, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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Van Andel Institute begins three-year study to treat rare tumor disorder
Medical researchers at the Van Andel Institute in downtown Grand Rapids work to “better diagnose and treat” cancer and other diseases such as osteoporosis, Parkinson's and diabetes. Photo via fb.com

Van Andel Institute and two West Michigan hospital systems, Saint Mary’s Health Care in Grand Rapids and Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, have signed agreements paving the way for the expansion of a “world-class biorepository,” according to VAI.

Biorepositories store tissue and biospecimens, along with health data provided by those patients. Both biorepositories and archived data have become crucial engines of genetic, genomic and other types of medical research, as well as advanced diagnostic procedures and treatment options.

VAI’s Program for Biospecimen Science recently became one of only seven biorepositories in the nation accredited by the College of American Pathologists. The PBS serves as the coordinating facility for the prospective collection of biological specimens in West Michigan and as a clearinghouse for the processing, storage and isolation of specimens to allow further biomedical discovery at VAI and partnering institutions. The PBS also conducts scientific, evidence-based practices to advance the field of biospecimen science.

The two hospital systems are part of Trinity Health, which is the 10th largest health system in the nation and the fourth largest Catholic health care system in America. Based in Novi, Trinity Health operates 49 acute-care hospitals, 432 outpatient facilities, 33 long-term care facilities and other programs in 10 states.

“This biorepository agreement is a natural extension of the collaborative relationship we have had for years with the Van Andel Institute,” said Phil McCorkle, Saint Mary’s president and CEO. “Saint Mary’s and VAI have a solid history of bringing research to our patients and community, as evidenced by our Parkinson’s disease and cancer research, as well as the Clinical Trial Unit at Saint Mary’s.”

“We look forward to strengthening our partnership with the Van Andel Institute,” said Roger Spoelman, president/CEO, Mercy Health Partners and Regional Executive of Mercy Health. “Through this and our other research efforts here at Mercy Health Partners, we continue not only to provide world-class patient care, but we are providing important opportunities for our patients to participate in groundbreaking cancer research.”

Biorepositories require a substantial investment to build and maintain, with the high-tech freezers needed for storing blood and other tissue samples costing $1 million and up, so it is cost-effective for multiple organizations to partner in an established biorepository, according to VAI.

Biorepositories also meet the growing demand for reliable, well-documented biospecimens used in the field of disease research. A significant obstacle in developing new treatments for diseases has been the lack of sufficient detailed written data with clinical samples and processing data of uniformly collected biospecimen research samples.

“Van Andel Institute’s Program for Biospecimen Science also has been designated as the only Comprehensive Biospecimen Resource for the Cancer Human Biobank of the Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research Branch at the National Cancer Institute,” said Scott Jewell, PBS director for VAI. He added that NCI often relies on experts in fields of science to bridge gaps in ability or infrastructure, like biorepositories.

With patient consent, Saint Mary’s Health Care and Mercy Health Partners will collect biospecimens and approved data and transfer them to VAI’s program. The institute will store the biospecimens and data and make them available to physicians and researchers. Saint Mary’s Health Care has already begun operations, and Mercy Health Partners hopes to commence operations within 90 days.

“Over the past five years Saint Mary’s has made a significant investment to build the research infrastructure required to bring leading-edge research and clinical trial opportunities to patients in West Michigan,” said Susan Hoppough, director of research and innovation at Saint Mary’s Health Care. She said the Clinical Trial Unit at Saint Mary’s is the first in West Michigan to focus on patients interested in early phase research.

Research using biospecimen samples like those stored in the VAI Biorepository can lead to new therapies that benefit patients in West Michigan and beyond.

VAI Chairman/CEO David Van Andel said the agreement will “help increase competitiveness for research funding,” as well as enhance recruitment at facility and yield new discoveries.

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