Truman Medical Centers (TMC) and The University of Kansas Cancer Center are collaborating on what could be the first of several regional biobanks – collections of specimens, such as blood, saliva and tissue, critical to translational cancer research in the region and across the country.
“Translational research takes what we learn in our labs and applies it – or ‘translates’ it -- to clinical trials that can help patients,” explains Andrew Godwin, Ph.D., deputy director of the KU Cancer Center and director of its repository. “Research like that can’t happen without a diverse collection of carefully documented biospecimens.”
Although the biobank partnership between TMC and KU Cancer Center officially kicked-off this winter, it involved years of planning. It was in 2012 when Godwin first mapped out the idea of a regional biobank network to improve geographic and population diversity among samples and expand representation in cancer research. Currently, less than 2 percent of clinical cancer research studies focus on ethnic groups, according to a University of California, Davis report.
Hoping to start off with a partner who already had strong surgical and clinical lab teams in place, Godwin contacted Midwest Cancer Alliance (MCA), to discuss the regional biobank idea. The MCA is a membership-based organization of hospitals and research centers across the region that links medical professionals and their patients to KU Cancer Center research and services.
In early 2013 the regional biobank concept was presented to MCA’s Partners Advisory Board, which included Mark McPhee, M.D., executive vice president for clinical coordination at TMC.
“Initially, we had a lot of interest but very little space,” explains McPhee. “Fortunately, soon after that meeting, a donation from the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation resulted in a cancer center expansion for TMC that included a biobank lab.”
Once the biobank lab at TMC was under construction, MCA hired Hanluen Kuo, previously KU Cancer Center’s biorepository development leader, as its biobank coordinator. Since then, Kuo has been a liaison between the two partners, working closely with Godwin’s team as well as with TMC’s medicine specialty director, Jo Beth Herrick, and biobank lab specialist, Patrick Todd.
After more than a year of preparation between the partners TMC’s biobank had its official opening on January 16.
“In less than two months we’ve already expanded the numbers and types of samples being collected and shared with other researchers in the region,” says Herrick.
In fact, the TMC biobank has already delivered its first box of 100 lab samples to KU Cancer Center's biospecimen repository and anticipates sending at least one box a month
“We couldn’t have asked for a better partner to help kick off a regional biobank network,” says Hope Krebill, MCA executive director. “The teamwork and dedication o improving cancer research from both TMC and KU is a clear indication of a mutual commitment to putting patients first.”