Processing ‘Biospecimens’ Propels Cancer-Fighting Discoveries

Headline-making advances in precisionmedicine rely on more than funding and facilities. Without access to donatedhuman tissue, these discoveries would be impossible. Every person’s biology isdifferent, so researchers must study the molecular makeup of thousands oftissue samples to learn which treatments work best for different patients’cancers.

These samples, called biospecimens, can be any material from the human body, such as tissue, blood and urine. At Miami Cancer Institute’s Center for Genomic Medicine, biospecimens are collected, processed and stored by two integrated units: the Biospecimen Repository Facility and the Protocol Support Laboratory.

“This infrastructure is not common at many cancer centers,” says Zuanel Diaz, Ph.D., director, Protocol Support Laboratory and Biospecimen Research Facility.  “Having these facilities in-house is typical of a cancer center that wants to be at the forefront of research in cancer treatment and prevention.”

The first step in obtainingtissue is meeting with patients to discuss the biorepository program. Clinicalresearch coordinators explain the program to patients and get their informedconsent to donate tissue for research purposes. Participation in the programdoes not affect the patients’ treatment. The tissue donated is usually left overfrom a medical procedure or test – material that would otherwise be destroyed. Currently,about 300 patients are enrolled each month.

South Florida’s population, with its high percentage of patients with Latin American and Caribbean roots, presents the Center for Genomic Medicine with a unique opportunity to obtain biospecimens from these traditionally underrepresented groups. 

According to Dr. Diaz, “It’simportant for those patients to contribute to the biorepository becauseincluding them in research projects will have an impact on the development ofdrugs, diagnostic or preventive strategies that will be effective for thoseparticular populations.”   

Once tissue samples arecollected, a team of trained specialists in the Protocol Support Laboratory carefullypreserves them following strict protocols. In the Biospecimen Repository, the samplesare stored at temperatures that range from -80 degrees to -150 degrees Celsiusuntil the time that they are requested by a researcher.

These state-of-the-artfacilities are equipped with the latest technology, enabling the Institute tofulfill the needs of any research sponsor. The biospecimens are available foruse in clinical trials conducted by other cancer institutes, governmentagencies, universities and pharmaceutical companies, in addition to studiesdriven by Miami Cancer Institute’s own researchers.   

“It’s very important to havea robust infrastructure to collect, process, store and distribute biospecimensbecause they are being used to propel new knowledge and support new scientificdiscoveries,” Dr. Diaz says. “We are very thankful for those patients thatcontribute their samples for future research.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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