Celebrating 25 years of banking biospecimens

Photo of banked specimens at minus 80 degrees celsius

Thousands of patients from The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW) have contributed to a worldwide understanding of paediatric cancer for 25 years and counting, through Biospecimen Research Services.

Since its beginning as the first biobanking facility focused solely on paediatric cancer, Biospecimen Research Services – formerly known as The Tumour Bank - has been an invaluable resource for researchers to help the children of tomorrow.

Photo in black and white of team of people standing in ward facing camera.

It coordinates the collection, storage, and distribution of biospecimens for studies internationally, providing cancer researchers with a diverse selection of high-quality tumour and bone marrow specimens, non-malignant tissue specimens, peripheral blood samples, and clinical data.

It stores up to 52345 tissue specimens which have been donated by more than 4845 patients, and to date, has supported more than 115 research studies around the world.

Prof Daniel Catchpoole, Principal Research Scientist and Head of Biospecimen Research Services, said biobanking has made a significant difference to informing paediatric cancer care.

“Patients from little-old Western Sydney are contributing to a worldwide understanding of paediatric cancer,” Prof Catchpoole said.

“Our job is to make sure these samples are available for researchers who can learn more and advance knowledge of this disease, helping them to go onto the next discovery while protecting the identity of our patients.”

Up to 150 children with cancer are newly referred The Cancer Centre for Children at CHW each year.  Paediatric cancer is considered a rare disease and within these new referrals, sometimes only one or two might have a specific type of disease.

Our biobank has contributed to worldwide studies for rare cancers that has led to new knowledge of this disease. We are an institute that wants to learn about what is happening to this child so for the next child who comes in with the same sort of disease, we can do something better,” Prof Catchpoole said.

Biospecimen Research Services work in collaboration with pathologists, medical oncologists, surgeons, and other trained clinicians, and is now an integrated part of care.

“We have morphed from being a biobank with freezes in a corridor to being a service provider where the skills of my team in tissue handling for research has come to the forefront,” Prof Catchpoole said.

Photo of five clinicians sitting around a table facing camera and smiling.

“It’s not about how many samples we’ve had in our freezers, but rather what skillsets we provide the Hospital in allowing the transition of samples from a donor through to a researcher in a standardised and consistent way.”

Biospecimen Research Services is a founding member of the Australasian Biospecimens Network and is on the NSW Office of Health and Medical Research NSW Biobank Registry. 

In 2017, it became the first biobank to be accredited under the NSW Health Pathology certification program. This certification exemplifies Biospecimen Research Services’ commitment to upholding the high standards of biobanking services and the continued support of quality translational cancer research, clinical trials and precision medicine.

Biospecimen Research Services is now working on accreditation for the National Association Testing Authorities.

For more information on Biospecimen Research Services, see their service page.