Integrity Excellence Innovation

April 2011 

Biobank Brief

Dear <>,

Welcome to the first edition of Biobank Brief for 2011.

The year has started positively with a strong focus on improving the linkage of clinical follow-up data to biospecimens. With additional funds from the Victorian Cancer Agency, two new data managers have been employed to assist with the uploading of biospecimen data to a centralised database and all necessary data fields from the database have been linked to BioGrid.

The Biobank continues to receive a steady stream of researcher applications, with our 100th application approved by the Access Committee last week. Tissue bank staff continue to focus on dispatching samples to meet these application requests as well as processing record numbers of quality specimens.

The rest of the year promises to be an exciting one for the Biobank, as it anticipates collaborations with several international peers and associates. The Biobank welcomes the opportunity to build collaborations on an international scale to support research that will lead to improvements in cancer diagnosis and treatments.

Please read on for some of the stories making news at the Victorian Cancer Biobank since our last edition in October

Project Cresalys

The project to centralise biospecimen data into the Cresalys database received a much needed boost to resources in January, following the successful application to the Victorian Cancer Agency for funding for two additional experienced data managers.

Cresalys has been customised to enable central operations staff to view the biospecimen inventory and associated pathology data across all Consortium member sites. Importantly, it will support the centralised allocation of biospecimens to research projects and streamline the dispatch process.

The Cresalys host software has been installed in a secure environment at the Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing (VPAC) facility in Carlton. VPAC staff, David Morrison and John Spencer, have collaborated with staff in the IT Departments of our nine consortium and associate member sites to install the client software on local servers and established secure VPN connections to the central server.

Joanne Edgar, the Applications and Operations Manager has managed the project, and Yassar Hameed the Data Manager in Central Operations at Cancer Council Victoria have worked with the data managers at the Consortium and associate member sites, training them in the use of Cresalys. New data managers Charlotte Crill and Daniella Surace (see below) have been providing assistance with data cleaning and migration at all sites.

Priority has been given to entering demographic and pathology data with storage data that will identify the location of all individual biospecimen aliquots to follow. The database now boasts almost 96% of demographic data entered and over 52% of associated pathology cleaned and entered. See below for a graph of the current Project Cresalys Complete data.

 PCC Graph

Biobank and BioGrid to strengthen links

BioGrid Australia and the Victorian Cancer Biobank have now joined forces to deliver better services to the medical research community, enabling a more efficient cancer translational research capability for Victoria.

Following the installation of the Cresalys sofware at VPAC, the Biobank and VPAC staff worked with Julie Johns from BioGrid to ensure that all necessary data fields from the Cresalys database have been linked to BioGrid. With the linkage in place and demographic data from Biobank donors fully entered, it is now possible to generate the BioGrid USI (Unique Subject Index) to de-identify and connect biospecimen data to any related clinical data.

BioGrid will provide secure, ethically approved access via a web-based platform to real-time clinical and biospecimen related data from participating institutions. It also has the capability to produce tailored reports for auditing and reporting and provide statistical analysis tools to conduct more advanced research analysis.

Recently, an independent external review was conducted to identify operational synergies between the organisations and make recommendations regarding areas for closer collaboration between the two organisations. Closer collaboration that will lead to improved data linkage has particularly strong support from researchers undertaking translational research.  It is viewed as the most effective way forward and a necessity for monitoring and improving treatment outcomes. The recommendations of the review will underpin the application to the Victorian government for funding the two infrastructure platforms from 2012-2015.

Biobank's role in major lung study breakthrough

In late 2010, The Herald-Sun, The Age and The Australian highlighted the role of thoracic surgeon, Mr Gavin Wright and his team in the international research collaboration that uncovered the role of FGFR-1 amplification in SCC of the lung and the availability of a drug to target the receptor and promote apoptosis of the cells. The team at St Vincent’s Hospital found around 20% of people with squamous cell lung cancer also possess the FGFR1 gene.

Researchers around the world hailed the discovery as having tremendous potential, since lung cancer has significantly higher mortality rates than other major cancers.

What was not mentioned is that the Biobank has provided OCT embedded tissue from 224 donors to the German collaborators. Consortium member tissue banks, located at Austin Health, Melbourne Health, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Southern Health played a pivotal role in supporting this research, as well as 97 other research projects being undertaken locally nationally and internationally.

This is a great outcome for the Biobank as one of its main objectives is to support the development of targeted therapies for the treatment of cancer.

A letter was sent by Dr Anne Thompson to the respective papers to raise awareness of the Biobank's role and in particular the role of all the donors that provide tissue to the Biobank, and was published in the ‘Your Say’ section of The Herald Sun.

In her letter, Dr Thompson praised the team at St Vincent’s Hospital, and highlighted the importance of continued financing for medical research, particularly for the development of targeted cancer therapies. Dr Thompson outlined the role that the Biobank played in supplying the tissue samples to the Max Plank Institute in Germany, on behalf of the St Vincent’s team, and expressed her gratitude to the 12,000 donors who provided tissue over the past four years, making this breakthrough possible.

OCT embedded

UK visitor to study ethics and donor consent at VCB

The Biobank is supporting a request from UK PhD student, Hannah Shipman, to observe current donor consent procedures and analyse the ethical implications.

Ms Shipman is undertaking a PhD at Cardiff University in the UK, and the working title of her project is “Consent for novel techniques in clinical practice and genetic research: Current experiences and looking ahead”. The study aims to explore the issues that surround consenting to novel technologies in clinical practice and genetic research. The focus is on what opinions and procedures are held today, how they have developed, and what can be learned and applied in the future as novel and increasingly complex situations requiring consent arise.

Ms Shipman has funding to carry out research in the UK and has obtained consent from Melbourne Health and Peter Mac Human Research Ethics Committees to conduct parallel research looking into consent to tissue testing in the context of research biobanks and MSI testing in Melbourne in 2011.

VCB to lend expertise to KL

Recently Dr Suasri Armon, from the Cancer Research Centre in Kuala Lumpur, contacted the Biobank with a request for work experience and training.

Dr Armon is currently setting up a biobank in Malaysia, and is interested in all aspects of the Victorian Cancer Biobank model. A preliminary program has been offered where Dr Armon will spend time at Central Operations observing methods in areas of management and operations, quality, applications, ethics, and data management. Later in the program she will go on-site to observe practices of biospecimen processing; service and dispatch; and donor consent.

We hope to bring you an account from Dr Armon when the program is complete. 


Dr Anne Thompson appointed to NZ committee

Over the last two years, the Victorian Cancer Biobank has provided advice to Stuart Ryan, General Manager of the Centre for Clinical Research and Effective Practice, and Daphne Mason, the Tissue Bank Coordinator during the establishment of the Tissue Bank at Middlemore Hospital, Manukau City, New Zealand.

Tissue collection has now commenced and the official opening of the Tissue Bank took place in Auckland on April 13. This collaboration will be strengthened with the appointment of Dr Anne Thompson to the Governance Committee of the Tissue Bank.

RCPA trainees gain remote access to Aperio

The Biobank has played an additional role in training pathology registrars whilst at the same time strengthening our relationship with the Royal Australasian College of Pathologists (RCPA). The RCPA provided $24,000 through their Training Network Development Support Initiatives Program for the Biobank to improve trainee access to training materials, particularly for trainees located outside metropolitan Melbourne. 

The Biobank arranged for the purchase and installation of a licence for the Aperio Education Software on a partitioned area of the Biobank central server located at the Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing (VPAC).

Biobank staff at Melbourne Health worked with Dr Andrew Ryan and Dr John Ciciulla to scan and upload pathology teaching materials, and David Morrison from VPAC ensured secure access to the materials was available to all participating trainees. 


Data Set Specification for tissue banking

As part of developing the National Cancer Data set, Cancer Australia identified the need to develop national guidelines and data set standards for the collection of biospecimens. A working group of members representing major tissue banks throughout Australia, which includes the Biobank’s Dr Anne Thompson, developed biospecimen data set specifications (DSS) for tissue banking.

The development of this DSS is the first step in establishing a more coordinated national approach to the collection of biospecimen data items, to improve access to specimens, and the availability of biospecimen data for translational research.

Biospecimen tissue banks provide an invaluable resource for cancer research which over time, will only increase in significance. The development of the DSS will support a nationally consistent approach to the collection of data across all tissue banks, irrespective of size.

Dr Thompson continues to be involved in the final stages of development of definitions, due for completion in June.

Access Committee News

The Access Committee members contribute their valuable time and expertise to the review of applications for biospecimens. The Committee ensures that ethics approval has been obtained for the research to be conducted, the number of samples requested fits within the ethics approval and is justified and also prioritise the supply of samples if necessary. During 2010 the Access Committee reviewed and approved 16 new applications.  Over the last 3 years the Committee has approved all 101 applications received.

The Access Committee farewelled Ms Ruth Patterson earlier this year. Ruth’s expertise in tissue banking has provided valuable input and we would like to thank Ruth for the hard work and contribution she has made to the Committee. The Committee welcomed Ms Audrey Partanen to the Access Committee in December 2010.

Welcome to new staff

Charlotte CrillTwo extra staff members have been recruited for the task of uploading biospecimen data to the specially-tailored database, Cresalys.

Charlotte Crill (pictured right) graduated with a double degree in Health Information Management and Health Sciences from La Trobe University in July 2010. She had worked part time with BioGrid for a year and a half and through that connection took on the role of Data Manager for the Cancer Services at Royal Melbourne Hospital. The hunt for something more challenging and rewarding led to her position as Data Manager at Victorian Cancer Biobank.

Daniela Surace (pictured below left) was Research Assistant and Tissue Bank Coordinator at Peter Mac, with national breast cancer consortium, kConFAb. Researching Daniela Suraceaspects of familial breast cancer, she was involved in all aspects of tissue banking from patient and surgeon contact, to quality validation of specimens in the laboratory, and distribution of samples to researchers nationally and internationally. During this time Surace gained a considerable amount of experience in collecting and entering data, this included pathology, demographic and mutation data on patients, which has benefited her in a seamless transition to Data Manager at the Biobank. 

With a new year, came some changes to staff on the ground:

Susan Hume (pictured below right) commenced as Tissue Bank Coordinator at the Eastern Health Tissue Bank based at Box Hill Hospital in November. She has a solid background in pathology having worked in microbiology for the last 20 years.
Susan Hume
Recent addition to St John of God Pathology, Tissue Bank Scientist, Samantha Bosanac graduated from RMIT last year with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Laboratory Medicine). In 2010, she completed a 40-week placement in the Histology and Tissue Bank laboratories at St John of God Pathology where she was trained in the processing of specimens.

Nina Paleracio finished Honors in Biochemistry at LaTrobe University last year and has experience at Cell Care - a private umbilical chord blood bank. She is now working as Tissue Bank Medical Scientist at Austin Health Tissue Bank.

Cabrini welcomed Pathology Registrar, Grace Liu in February. Liu is a 4th year pathology trainee and spent her last two years in The Alfred Anatomical Pathology department.

Finally, Alexandra DuGuscelin commenced at Southern Health as Pathology Registrar in February. DuGuscelin is a graduate of Monash University, and spent six years studying Clinical Medicine before deciding on Anatomical Pathology. She is interested in Tropical Medicine, including Third World Medicine, and has worked at regional centres in Darwin, Geelong and country Victoria.

The VCB Annual Report 2010 is now available on the website as a pdf download. If you would like a hard copy mailed out to you, and you haven’t already received one, please drop us an email at with your postal address.

VCB Annual Report 2011