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 "The way one repository collects, processes and stores its specimens may be very different from the way another repository does, which may complicate comparisons of research results."



By Mark D. Uehling

March 17, 2004 | According to a recent report from the Rand Corp., a profusion of well-meaning approaches to tissue banking is hindering scientific progress. "The way one repository collects, processes, and stores its specimens may be very different from the way another repository does, which may complicate comparisons of research results," states the report. Federal repositories appear to be several years behind industry in setting rigorous standards to support drug discovery.

The think tank was attempting to determine whether the National Dialogue on Cancer (a consortium of private, academic, and government cancer strategists that has since renamed itself C-Change), could find best practices for a new, proposed repository to be funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The lead author of the Rand study, Elisa Eiseman, says that while academic or nonprofit organizations like the Cooperative Human Tissue Network or Duke University have laudable practices of their own, there are no national standards. As a result, not all of the 300 million specimens currently sitting in U.S. medical freezers may be that useful. "People are realizing it's not just the tissue," says Eiseman. "It's the information that goes with it."

In fact, many traditional tissue banks were not set up to serve science in the present era. "A lot of these repositories or collections were not set up with genomics in mind," Eiseman notes. "They were collecting what they could get."

One of the most intriguing issues that tissue bank are starting to crack is longitudinal access to future information about a donor's health. Eiseman explains that finding out what happens to a person who donates a sample can be problematic. Some patients don't like being watched; others are glad to help. But the Philadelphia Familial Breast Cancer Registry and selected NCI Specialized Programs of Research Excellence are collecting or trying to collect longitudinal data.

So is Genomics Collaborative, but only with most blood and DNA samples. Ardais, for its part, already has academic sites pore over the medical records of certain donors, but it doesn't yet plan to ever ask a patient to return to the hospital for another biopsy.

Still, the pundits examining the issues of the IT around specimens framed the issue bluntly last year in a report about a proposed federal project called the National Biospecimen Network. "The heterogeneity among existing repositories poses a challenge to support genomic and proteomic research, particularly concerning the ability to conduct and compare large numbers of biospecimens to capitalize on genomic and proteomic technologies," the authors wrote. "A national tissue resource, although ambitious, is necessary to realize the promise of genomics and proteomics for the prevention and cure of cancer and other diseases."

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