Fighting Cancer by Collecting Biospecimens
Biorepository Alliance of Georgia for Oncology
Clinicians in Georgia can make an important contribution to cancer research by supporting and advocating for the collection of biospecimens from their patients. When patients undergo surgery to remove a tumor or part of a diseased organ, any specimen not needed by pathologists for diagnosis, can be saved instead in a biorepository for future research use. Patients are asked to provide their approval, or “informed consent, for use of specimens, and many appreciate the opportunity to contribute to scientific progress that may lead to better and earlier cancer detection methods and treatments.
According to Dr. Carolyn Compton, director of the Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research Office at the National Cancer Institute, having a biorepository is essential to the type of cancer research that will “take us into this new era of medicine.” Modern molecular-based research includes genomics, proteomics, and molecular imaging. Together, they will drive the development of a new generation of targeted, personalized diagnostics and therapies that will ultimately improve clinical outcomes for patients.
In Georgia, the Biorepository Alliance of Georgia for Oncology (BRAG-Onc) is working to provide researchers in the state with access to high quality specimens, appropriate for molecular analysis, and richly annotated with clinical information. The availability of biospecimens of appropriate quality supports cancer research studies from cancer biology to discovering and validating new therapeutic targets and biomarkers.
The Medical College of Georgia (MCG) serves as the central repository for this statewide network, which is supported by the Georgia Cancer Coalition (GCC). BRAG-Onc supports the mission of the Coalition to improve cancer control and reduce cancer deaths in Georgia through statewide collaborations. Georgia’s Biorepository is unique in its mission to represent diverse cancer populations of the state, in its multi-institutional organization, as well as its non-profit status. Judith Giri, Ph.D. is Director of the Biorepository Alliance of Georgia for Oncology. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pathology and a member of the Cancer Center at MCG.
Thanks to participating institutions, BRAG-Onc now has samples representing more than 3400 cancer patients in the state. Participating institutions include major urban centers as well as community hospitals, providing researchers access to a unique of collection of specimens.
The Biorepository has strict oversight to ensure that specimens are collected ethically, and valuable specimens are utilized for appropriate research. Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) and Advisory Committees provide local oversight within each institution. Governance and overall guidance for the statewide biorepository is provided by an external Advisory Board and a Steering Committee comprised of Principal Investigators from each participating institution. The Georgia Cancer Coalition established BRAG-Onc and provides continuing support of its operations.
The BRAG-Onc tissue and tumor bank is a resource to academic cancer research scientists, including the 118 active Scholars funded by the Georgia Cancer Coalition as Distinguished Cancer Clinicians and Scientists. Having a statewide biorepository supports the recruitment of cancer researchers to Georgia and investigators can include the BRAG-Onc services in their grant applications. BRAG-Onc is also crucial to the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education (Georgia CORE) which is working in concert with partners such as the Georgia Society of Clinical Oncology (GASCO) to build a statewide research network and clinical trials registry.
The biorepository’s main function is to provide centralized specimen banking services, with ethical patient consent, standardized and controlled conditions for procurement, long-term low temperature storage facilities with monitoring and back-up, appropriate quality control measures and a web-based database for informatics. BRAG-Onc follows Best Practices recommendations for biorepositories from the National Cancer Institute.
The process of procurement, handling and storage of specimens for research involves several steps and many contributors, including: medical oncologists and surgeons, OR and research nurses, pathologists and the biorepository staff. The first and most important contributors are the patients who donate the specimens.
“The value of the cancer biorepository depends not only on the quality of specimens but also on the associated clinical information. When collecting information about patients’ medical conditions and relevant history (from the Cancer Registry, for example), one of the biorepository’s highest priority is maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of personal and medical information,” says Dr. Giri. “The patients’ reward is in knowing that they are helping researchers find new ways to prevent and treat this terrible disease in the future.”
Procurement sites and multiple regional procurement centers cover the state and include:
EAST: Coordinating Center/Medical College of Georgia,
WEST CENTRAL: John B. Amos Cancer Center at Columbus Regional Medical Center, Columbus
METRO ATLANTA: Dekalb Medical, Decatur; Piedmont Hospital, Atlanta; St. Joseph’s Hospital, Atlanta (future site)
NORTHWEST: Hamilton Medical Center, Dalton (NW hub); Redmond Medical Center, Rome; Floyd Medical Center, Rome; Gordon Hospital, Calhoun; Hutcheson Medical Center, Fort Oglethorpe
SOUTHWEST: Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, Albany (SW hub); Archbold Medical Center, Thomasville
SOUTHEAST: Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer and Research Pavilion at St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System, Savannah; Memorial Health System, Savannah
For information about BRAG-Onc, contact Dr. Judith Giri at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-721-5279.