Integrity Excellence Innovation

October 2011 

Biobank Brief

Welcome to ‘Biobank Brief’ for October 2011.

It is very rewarding for us to see a continuing increase in applications for biospecimens and services, with our 122nd application being received this week. As a result of this increasing demand, we have separated the Applications and Operations role. Some of you may have already worked with Daniela Surace, our new Applications Manager. Joanne Edgar is now Operations Manager, focusing on streamlining the dispatch process and shortening delivery times.

An important goal of the Biobank is to support and promote collaborative research. In this edition, Dr Leah Cosgrove from CSIRO highlights the role of the Biobank in an important ongoing collaboration.

One highly valued service provided by the Biobank is the delivery of fresh tissue to researchers within two hours. Since the Biobank commenced this service in 2007, more than 1000 tissue samples have been provided in culture media for the preparation of cell lines. In June, we highlighted the use of fresh tissue provided through the Biobank for the award-winning research by Wen Qiu (Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre). In this edition, our role has again been acknowledged in the supply of fresh tissue to researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, who recently received recognition for their breakthrough study in breast cancer treatment.

Dr Anne Thompson, Executive Officer

Biobank supports development of a blood based diagnostic assay for colorectal cancer

The Preventative Health Flagship at CSIRO, in collaboration with their academic, clinical and commercial partners is undertaking research to develop a blood based biomarker for early detection of colorectal cancer (CRC).

“Serum and plasma specimens provided by the Victorian Cancer Biobank have been an integral part of our research efforts to develop a blood based diagnostic test for CRC. Since 2005 we have analysed over 50 potential protein biomarkers in a series of case-control studies using at least 50 CRC specimens from VCB in each study,” explained the project leader, Dr Leah Cosgrove. “The largest of these studies, which was completed this year, included both serum and plasma from 100 CRC donors recruited, sampled and processed by the VCB.  Overall we have used specimens from over 300 CRC donors collected via the VCB through their network of tissue banks at hospitals in Victoria. The results of these studies are very promising and have led to the refinement of a panel of 10 protein biomarkers from which panels can be chosen with sensitivity of 86% at 90% specificity.”

Following a successful application by CSIRO and their collaborators to NHMRC for funding to further develop a biomarker panel, the VCB will undertake the prospective collection and supply of serum and plasma specimens from a new cohort of donors attending colonoscopy clinics. “This group of patients will be crucial to refining our understanding of biomarker levels in CRC patients and importantly will allow us to potentially detect those with early, precancerous adenomas,” Dr Cosgrove said.

For more information on the study, please visit:

Biobank’s role in successful breast cancer research outcome

Researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have acknowledged the Biobank’s role in supplying fresh tissue for their research exploring the role of the pro-survival protein BCL-2 as a potential therapeutic target in breast cancer.

Geoff Lindeman, Jane Visvader and their team recently announced the details of their study, which provides evidence that BH3 mimetics can be used in chemotherapy to sensitise primary breast tumours. Dr Lindeman said that early results suggest navitoclax (an orally-available BH3 mimetic) could provide new hope for treating some breast cancers that are not candidates for other currently available treatments.

“ABT-737 targets proteins from the Bcl-2 family, which are found at high levels in up to 70 per cent of breast cancers,” Dr Lindeman said. “We have shown that breast tumours that have high levels of Bcl-2 respond well to treatment with ABT-737 when used in combination with a conventional chemotherapy drug.”

Dr Lindeman went on to say that the research could lead to the development of new treatment regimens that make resistant and difficult-to-treat breast cancer more vulnerable to conventional chemotherapy treatments. “We have had a good result in pre-clinical models of disease, but we are still a way off this being used in humans,” Dr Lindeman, who is also an oncologist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, said. “We hope that these results could see a clinical trial of navitoclax for treating breast cancer with high Bcl-2 levels within the next few years.”

The project is supported by the Victorian Breast Cancer Research Consortium through the Victorian Cancer Agency, the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Cancer Research Foundation and the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

The details of this breakthrough study have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Biobank hosts international biobanking visitors

Earlier this month, the Victorian Cancer Biobank was honoured to host guests Pasquale Di Blasio and his wife, Senior Researcher at National Research Council of Italy, Ida Bunnio.

Pasquale is the President of the European, Middle Eastern and African Society for Biobanking and Biopreservation (ESBB). He is also is a very active member of the International Society of Biological and Environmental Biorepositories (ISBER) and a member of the Marble Arch International Working Group of Biobanking Experts. He is Managing Director of BioRep srl, a global bio repository service provider located in Milan, Italy and he also manages a small biotech company, Integrated Systems Engineering srl which specialises in biomedical instrumentation design, including a tissue micro-arrayer system.

Pasquale presented Harmonising Biobanking Practices in Europe and Worldwide to an audience of interested Biobank staff. The presentation provided an insight into current biobanking practices in Europe and Pasquale spoke in depth about recent developments and the challenges in the areas of data storage and access, as well as ethical and legal considerations.

Pasquale emphasised the importance of building an international biobanking community in order to share knowledge and enable new technologies, thereby accelerating clinical discovery and maximising the impact for clinical and public health.

From left: Ida Bunnio, Dr Anne Thompson and Pasquale Di Blasio; photo courtesy Yassar Hameed

Biobank and CISS

Earlier this year the Biobank collaborated with Cancer Information Support Service (CISS) to deliver a series of communications workshops designed to equip tissue bank staff with the appropriate communication skills required for relating to people who are affected by cancer.

The workshop was an opportunity for Biobank staff to discuss their experiences and quiz experts, Kate Wakelin (Program Manager) and Karen Conte (Programs Director) from CISS on various matters related to the donor consent process. In return, Kate and Karen were able to provide Biobank staff with self-care strategies to assist them in managing their own emotional responses, as well as outlining the referral process for people in need of further support.

The workshop was positively received by all participants and the Biobank would like to formally thank Kate, Karen and their team at CISS for taking the time to engage with us and share their valuable knowledge.

Kate and Karen 
Kate Wakelin (left) and Karen Conte

Central Operations Staff Change: Applications and Operations

The Biobank is pleased to report a significant increase in applications this year, and subsequently, a new role has been created to assist with the task of providing a high quality, timely service. 

Joanne Edgar has been Applications and Operations Manager for the last three years, and has been training newly appointed Applications Manager, Daniela Surace (previously Data Manager) in the role, where she will liaise with the Access Committee and coordinate the review and approval process.

Joanne will remain with the Biobank, taking on the role of Operations Manager where she will focus on all operational matters including dispatches and process improvements. Joanne will liaise with researchers and coordinate major research projects.

News in brief:  

Data Sets  

Researchers interested in applying for Biobank specimens can now find a Minimum Data Set Supplied information sheet on our website. The pdf can be downloaded via the link below, and clearly outlines the data supplied with each biospecimen provided.


A new VCB site at The Alfred in 2012

We are excited to announce that VCB has received funding from the Victorian Cancer Agency to expand our tissue bank network to open a new site at The Alfred Hospital at the beginning of 2012. A forum will be held at the Alfred later this year for researchers to communicate their biobanking needs to VCB staff.


Aperio Webinars

Aperio have recently announced a series of free webinars designed to assist users with the use of the software and related topics, including the recent ‘Considerations for Digital Pathology’. You can download past and current webinars via the link below:


ISBER article

ISBER included an article on VCB’s inter-Biobank visits scheme in their August edition of ISBER News. If you haven’t already, check it out via the link below for August, where you’ll find us on page 11.