As the study and treatment of cancer gets more specific and more sophisticated, so too must the handling of these samples. That’s why, since she began as Scientific Director of Stony Brook’s Biobank more than a year ago, Angelique Corthals, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pathology, has been continually upgrading procedures and processes.
The Biobank, which is part of the Pathology Department at Stony Brook Medicine and the Stony Brook University Cancer Center, archives and provides biological specimens collected under informed consent to Stony Brook researchers and collaborators.
The Biobank archives more than just tissue samples; it also preserves bodily fluids, including urine, sweat and cerebral spinal fluid. And it banks tissues, organs, viable cell lines, paraffin blocks and RNA/DNA/HPLC extracts — basically any biomaterial whether collected for research purposes or as residual specimens from diagnostic, therapeutic or surgical procedures. Researchers can also archive the physical results of their experiments for later re-exploration or for peer review.
Using the most stable methods of preservation for both molecules and tissue morphology — liquid nitrogen vitrification (LN2-cryogenics) — the Biobank brings tissue to -196o C, one degree per minute, so that freezing, which damages the cells, never occurs. Instead the material is brought to the physical state of glass (vitrification), rather than solid. This process minimizes structural and molecular damage by preventing hydrolytic and oxidative stress that is encountered at -80oC.
The Biobank also offers a choice of cryoprotectants (DMSO) and buffers (RNA/DNA LaterTM), based on the future use and the harvesting method. Tissue data, both electronic (medical history, diagnosis, digital images, etc.) and physical (PDF scans of consent forms, etc.), are also archived in a day-to-day, secure database.
What’s on the horizon for the Biobank at Stony Brook? “We are in the midst of creating a new, highly flexible database that makes it easier for researchers to add fields, images, diagnostic slides, PDFs of signed consent forms and other data,” said Dr. Corthals.
Also in the works is a highly secure internal network designed to protect patient privacy, while including a subset of the data that has been de-identified of all patient information, for researchers to help prevent redundancies in testing. For example, a researcher who needs gene sequencing of a particular type of cell, could find it in the Biobank’s database, instead of using up his or her limited biological sample.
“It is this kind of collaboration among researchers worldwide that will help advance the study of cancer,” said Dr. Corthals.