Integrity Excellence Innovation

June 2010 

Biobank Brief


Executive Officer's message

This month marks the fourth anniversary of the Victorian Cancer Biobank Consortium, which was officially formed in June 2006 when the five members signed the Consortium Agreement. Over the four years, the implementation of our unique operational model has presented challenges.   However, it is rewarding to know that all members of the Consortium and associated organisations have been able to work through the issues together to create an organisation that has successfully supported applications from more than 70 research groups. 

Over the last 12 months an increasing number of applications have been received from interstate and international researcher groups. Feedback we received at the ISBER international biobanking conference in Rotterdam this month confirms that our international profile is strengthening. Other tissue banks showed great interest in our operational model and governance and managment structure and researchers enquired about applying for our products and services which they have seen on our website.  We look forward to working with these groups in the future. 

We will continue to keep you informed of news in this new e-newsletter format and look forward to receiving suggestions and feedback.

Anne Thompson
Executive Officer


Applications management:  the dispatch process

In the second of a series of information articles about Biobank applications, I would like to provide some information about our processes for dispatching samples.

Once an application has been approved by the Access Committee, a Materials Transfer Agreement or Services Agreement is sent to the researcher's organisation for signature.  Schedule 1 of the Agreement confirms the biospecimens and/or services requested and the associated cost.

The availability of samples that match the requested criteria is confirmed during the application process.  This is currently undertaken using several information retrieval methods, but is a critical area where significant improvements will be made when the Biobank's new centralised database is fully functional.

On receipt of the executed Agreement, a Specimen Details Sheet containing project requirements and delivery details is made available to all Biobank staff via the intranet.  This notifies staff that these samples can now be prepared and dispatched.  I nominate one site for the dispatch of all samples, taking into consideration where the researcher is based and whether the researcher has indicated a preference for a particular site.

When samples are to be supplied from multiple sites I coordinate the dispatch by selecting the appropriate number of samples from each site.  These samples are then sent to a nominated site where all samples will be combined in one package and dispatched to the researcher.  For both archival and fresh tissue dispatches the researcher is contacted to arrange a suitable delivery date that ensures someone will be on hand to receive the samples.

Our aim is to ensure fresh tissue samples are delivered within four hours of surgery.  In the case of archival samples we aim to deliver within one month of receiving the signed agreement where there are samples available.  When delays are anticipated or samples are not available, every effort is made to communicate the reasons behind the delay to the researcher.

Joanne Edgar
Applications and Operations Manager


Biobank Chair on the move to Melbourne University

Peter Rogers
The July meeting of the Victorian Cancer Biobank Consortium Committee will be my final one as the Southern Health representative due to an impending move to a position at Melbourne University.  To make my 'retirement' both as SH representative and Committee Chair, I have been asked to put a short article together for the Biobank Brief.

The Biobank, then known as the Victorian Tissue Banking Initiative, was first awarded State Government funding through DIIRD in late 2005.  The inaugural meeting of the Victorian Cancer Research Tissue Bank Consortium Committee was held in July 2006, with David Bowtell, David Fogarty, Geoff Lindeman, myself, Andrew Scott and Woody Macpherson in attendance, and Anne Thompson, Executive Officer, attended her first meeting in December 2006. 

In four short years the Biobank has established itself as a major force in tissue banking and has developed a model that is now being copied by other tissue banks around the world.  It can look back on several notable achievements, including development of a single multi-site ethics approval, installation of four pathology digital imaging systems, establishment of IT systems to support operations and provide follow-up data associated with biospecimens, and an active marketing and communications program.

The primary challenge for the Biobank will be to continue to meet the rapidly increasing demand for tissues from the research community, as well as the more specialised requirements for 'value-added services' such as tissue arrays, DNA, RNa and fresh tissue.  I am confident that the people and systems are in place to meet these challenges. 

It has been a privilege to be involved with the early years of the Biobank, and I would like to thank all the people who have played a role, including surgeons, pathologists, tissue bank staff, committee members and, most importantly, the patients who support the Biobank by willingly donating tissues.

Professor Peter Rogers
BSc (Hons), PhD


New placement for Peter Mac's Pathology Registrar

Max YanDr Max Yan has been the pathology registrar at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre since February 2008.  During this time he has seen significant growth in the donation of tissue specimens for banking, and he cites the implementation of extensive quality assurance procedures as a major improvement to processes.

Max has particularly enjoyed his involvement in research projects looking at micro RNA profiling, hypoxia, estrogen receptor beta, cohesion rad21 expression and regulation of the anti-tumour immune response in breast cancer.  Later this month Max is moving on to a new position as pathologist at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney where he will be able to continue to improve  his pathologist skills while pursuing his interest in research.

One of the recognised strengths of the Biobank program is the provision of six pathologist registrar positions at the four Consortium member hospital sites as well as Cabrini Pathology and St John of God Pathology in Geelong.  The pathologists contribute substantially to pathology laboratories and the positions have proven to be very attractive to trainee pathologists.


Biobank supports development of multi-marker diagnostic test for ovarian cancer

The Biobank has played an important role in the further development of the diagnostic product OvPlex™ by the biotechnology company HealthLinx.

In early 2009 HealthLinx applied to the Biobank for plasma samples to further evaluate some promising preliminary data using a multi-marker assay for the detection of early stage ovarian cancer.  The research project used the Biobank's plasma samples to test whether the inclusion of additional two biomarkers, for a total of five, would improve the diagnostic efficiency of the assay.  Initial results from this research suggest that the diagnostic accuracy of this new assay has improved from 94% to greater than 97% for early stage ovarian cancer.

A larger international study is now underway to evaluate the performance of the company's second generation OvPlex™ test.  The study is being supported by a $750,000 grant from the Government's Science Agenda Investment Fund and was launched by the Minister for Innovation Gavin Jennings on 15 June at the HealthLinx laboratories in Richmond.

The current OvPlex™ test has been available in Australia since late 2008 and was released in the UK in December 2009. 


Member of the Order of Australia Honours

Avis Macphee and David FogartyThe Victorian Cancer Biobank congratulations Consortium Committee member Avis Macphee AM (pictured with fellow committee member David Fogarty) for her recognition in the Queen's Birthday 2010 Honour List.

Mrs Macphee was made a Member of the Order of Australia in recognition of her service to community health, particularly as a supporter of research into the treatment and management of breast cancer.  She also knows first-hand the impact cancer can have - she is a breast cancer survivor herself. A retired medical scientist, she is also the founder and coordinator of the Breast Cancer Support Group of the Bone Marrow Donor Institute Ltd.

A Consortium Committee member since 2006, her current appointments also include membership of the Cancer Council Victoria Executive Committee and the Board of Management and Scientific Committee of the Victorian Breast Cancer Research Consortium. She also represents the Breast Cancer Network Australia and the Breast Cancer Action Group on several committees.


Welcome to new staff

Michael Schwarz (BSc) is the new data manager at Central Operations.  For the last four years he has been working as a health information manager/clinical coder at the Central Bureau of Statistics in Jerusalem, Israel.  Michael is managing the data entry of application details and retrieving statistics for reporting purposes, and he is also assisting with the implementation of the new centralised database that will improve the efficiency of the enquiry and dispatch process.

Jeffrey Nolan (BSc) has joined the Melbourne Health staff as a tissue bank medical scientist.  He has previously been working at Alchemia Oncology helping to develop new chemotherapy drugs.


Our collection

The Biobank provides biospecimens prepared from a collection of blood and tissue samples, taken with consent from healthy individuals and patients diagnosed with cancer. Some information about the health and treatment of the donors is also collected. The tissue that is collected following surgery is in  excess of what is required for diagnosis and would otherwise be discarded.


How to apply for biospecimens

Step 1

Go to to read and download the following documents:

Information on how to apply and conditions of use
Cost recovery schedule
Overview of application forms

Step 2

Go to Application for Biospecimens and download the Application for Human Biospecimens form relevant to your application.  Complete and submit electronically or by mail according to the instructions given.

Step 3
The Biobank Access Committee will assess your application; this process usually takes two weeks.

Step 4

Once approved a Materials Transfer Agreement or Services Agreement that includes costs will be forwarded to you.  As soon as we receive the signed agreement your biospecimens will be prepared for dispatch and/or prospective collection will commence.