Vol. 12 No. 3 - October, 2009

Patients give ‘a little bit extra’ for biomedical research

Conquering Diseases Biorepository Core launched

 “A little bit extra” is how Joanne Meisner describes her request of UMass Memorial Medical Center patients who’ve agreed to participate in the Conquering Diseases Biorepository Core, a new resource established at UMass Medical School to bank blood samples for biomedical research. Working with nurses in the Medical Center’s five intensive care units, Meisner, Conquering Diseases project manager, enrolls patients from whom a small amount of extra blood will be drawn during their usual care for use in biomedical research.

The Biorepository Core is a collaborative effort led by Craig Lilly, MD, professor of medicine, anesthesiology and surgery and director of the UMass Memorial eICU program; Ralph Zottola, PhD, instructor in biochemistry & molecular pharmacology and associate chief information officer of Academic & Research Computing Services; Gary Schneider, PhD, professor of molecular medicine and associate vice provost for research administration; and Paul Ranauro, senior application database developer; and overseen by the UMMS Institutional Review Board. It will store plasma, DNA and RNA and will provide researchers with a pool of de-identified samples to work with.

While many biorepositories bank DNA and protein products, few bank RNA, but given the Medical School’s strength in RNA research, the Biorepository Core will seek to meet the research needs by isolating both high molecular weight DNA and total RNA (including small RNA and microRNA). Additionally—and equally important—researchers will be able to obtain de-identified information about patients’ age, gender, diagnoses and medications at the time of the sample draw, allowing for comparison of one sample to the next.

“To conquer common diseases, we need to identify the factors responsible for differences in how they manifest and respond to treatment,” said Dr. Lilly, director of the Biorepository Core. “In partnership with health care providers at UMass Memorial, we are documenting how diseases present and respond to treatment every day. The biorepository is about using this information that can be used to not only understand what those variations are and why, but also, eventually, to better guide patient care for the best outcomes.”

By creating an infrastructure that bridges the hospital and medical school information systems, the Biorepository Core can make available a substantial amount of de-identified clinical information linked to patient-derived samples. As of September, researchers are able to search two million records—completely de-identified to protect patient privacy—that include 122 million clinical facts. Although the Biorepository Core just recently began recruiting patients and is currently still building its inventory of samples and preparing to begin fielding requests for materials, the implication is clear: the Biorepository Core is poised to quickly expand and capture a tremendous amount of information that will further understanding of the disease process. The Biorepository uses a consented sample approach and a carefully monitored phased roll out strategy designed to fit seamlessly into UMass Memorial’s routine practice. The feedback from members of the community has been very positive, said Meisner.

In Phase 1, Meisner is enrolling ICU patients who are awake and alert and able to give consent; in Phase 2 she will include all ICU patients whose families give consent. She is working to create a process that all hospital floors can implement to collect samples and will begin training hospital phlebotomists to collect, document and ship the samples. (The program began with the ICUs in part because those patients’ blood draws are done by their nurses, helping to streamline the process.) Thus far she has received consent from 50 patients, amid very positive responses. “Many patients and their families have heard about research at the Medical School and they are genuinely interested in being a part of it.”