Focus and Guest Column

Expanded biorepository enhances region’s capabilities

January 5, 2013
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A recent collaboration between several members of West Michigan’s biomedical research and life sciences corridor has significant implications for strengthening the region’s capabilities and enhancing its reputation among the nation’s research and health care communities.

Van Andel Institute and two West Michigan hospitals — Saint Mary's Health Care of Grand Rapids and Muskegon’s Mercy Health Partners — signed an agreement in October that paves the way for the expansion of a world-class biorepository utilizing the infrastructure of the VAI Program for Biospecimen Science.

This significant agreement between West Michigan research and clinical entities helps increase competitiveness for research funding, enhance recruitment, produce discoveries advancing the understanding of treatment and disease and, most importantly, achieve improved patient outcomes. It also has possible regional and national implications, as the hospitals are members of the national Trinity Health system.

The agreement also is another important step in promoting VAI’s translational research mission. The goal is to move scientific discoveries as quickly as possible from the lab bench into clinical diagnostics and treatments.

Biorepositories store tissue and biospecimens, along with other health data donated by 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. The facilities do, however, require a substantial investment to build and maintain. Sophisticated, prefabricated freezers capable of maintaining the low temperatures required to store blood and other tissue samples can start at a cost of $1 million, so it is cost-effective for multiple organizations to partner in growing an established biorepository.

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

VAI’s Program for Biospecimen Science 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 fuel biomedical discovery at VAI and partnering institutions. The PBS also conducts scientific evidence-based practices to advance the field of biospecimen science.

Several key attributes and accomplishments of Van Andel Institute’s PBS set it apart from competing biorepositories. The PBS recently became one of only seven biorepositories in the nation accredited by the College of American Pathologists based on results of an on-site inspection as part of CAP’s accreditation programs. CAP, the first in the industry to offer an accreditation program for biorepositories, bases the program on the principles of its Laboratory Accreditation Program. The U.S. federal government recognizes the CAP Laboratory Accreditation Program, begun in the early 1960s, as being equal to or more stringent than the government’s own inspection program.

Van Andel Institute’s PBS 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, which often relies on experts in fields of science to meet gaps in ability or infrastructure, like biorepositories.

Under the agreement, with patient consent, Saint Mary's and Mercy Health will collect biospecimens and approved data and transfer them to Van Andel Institute’s PBS. The institute will store the biospecimens and data using sophisticated processes and equipment and will make the specimens available to physicians and researchers. Saint Mary's already has begun operations, and Mercy Health plans to commence operations within 90 days of signing the agreement.

The expansion of Van Andel Institute’s PBS provides an additional link between the lab and clinical research involving patients, allowing faster, close-to-home enhanced access to potentially life-saving diagnostic and treatment options for cancer, neurodegenerative disease and other clinical conditions.

David Van Andel is chairman and CEO of Van Andel Institute.

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