The Duke Biobank, which is located on the Duke University campus in Durham, North Carolina, is a resource for clinical and translational researchers to bank or manipulate biospecimens. Helena Ellis, the director of the Duke Biobank, guides the development of the biobanking infrastructure so it can better serve researchers and protect Duke’s valuable biospecimen collections.
Q: What are the goals of the Duke Biobank?
Ellis: The Duke Biobank was launched in 2010. It’s not a brick and mortar biobank, but a consortium of shared resources. The cornerstones of the Duke Biobank are:
- The Index of Biospecimens –a catalog of existing clinical research biological samples at Duke that may be available for sharing.
- The Biospecimen Repository and Processing Core –Duke’s central tissue procurement core in the Department of Pathology and the Duke Cancer Institute.
- The DNA Bank (previously the CHG DNA Bank) –a shared resource that specializes in blood and DNA biobanking and blood derivatives.
- A Biobanking Information Management System –Duke’s enterprise-wide system for informatics.
We’re using these elements to achieve four main goals. At Duke Biobank we want to: 1) identify biospecimens which are being stored at Duke, 2) establish a system of shared resources, 3) upgrade informatics related to biobanking and 4) improve the education and oversight of our biobanked collections.
Q: So, there were several collections already in place, and the Duke Biobank is serving to pull them all together?
Ellis: Yes, that’s right. Unfortunately, it’s very common in the university setting for research silos to develop. The Duke Biobank is tearing down those silos and bringing different groups together under a central infrastructure. We want to answer questions like, “What do we have?” and “How well are we storing and handling these collections?” Our informatics are helping us track biospecimens and support biobanking best practices.
Q: What organizations can be part of the Duke Biobank?
Ellis: We started with a working group of six biobanks on campus, and it has been growing from there. The Duke Biobank welcomes any Duke University biobank that wants to do a better job and help meet the needs of others.
Q: What are the advantages of joining a biobank like the Duke Biobank versus, say, building a biobank of your own?
Ellis: There are several advantages. First, you can benefit from the Duke Biobank’s fully-vetted informatics system. With the system and plan we use, researchers maintain ownership of their biosamples, and the collections can stay wherever they are. Second, the Duke Biobank has financial support from the University, and that can be very helpful for biobanks that need to migrate their legacy systems. In addition, all the participating biobanks can share information between themselves. Of course, there are rules and regulations governing who can use what, but it’s always possible to query what’s available.
Q: Sharing between researchers and between biobanks is becoming more and more essential.
Ellis: Yes, and it’s technology that makes that sharing possible. Sometimes I like to think of us as the “eHarmony” of biosamples. We connect those who need a certain sample with those who have it.
Q: And it’s the technology that makes the connections possible?
Ellis: Technology helps us make the connections, and it also helps us maintain an accurate inventory. Let’s say you have a biobank with 20 freezers. If you don’t know what’s in them, who cares? If you don’t know what you have, you might as well not have it. Our new system helps us keep track of all the participating collections.
Q: What is the Biospecimen Repository and Processing Core?
Ellis: The Biospecimen Repository and Processing Core (BRPC) is based in the Department of Pathology. It was created to provide Duke with a shared resource for coordinated tissue processing and biorepository services, including patient identification and informed consent, specimen collection, processing and banking and annotation of banked specimens and specimen distribution. The consolidation of biobanking into a single infrastructure represents an opportunity to ensure high quality biospecimens, global institutional compliance with CAP and FDA regulations around biobanking and associated research, maximization of biospecimen utility and global and equitable access to investigators. (This wording is from the The Biospecimen Repository and Processing Core webpage.)