It was fairly common that our biobank team would receive a phone call late in the afternoon from an attending rheumatologist at the nearby children’s hospital. A child would be admitted into the hospital later in the evening and was open to donating samples for our investigative projects. Our plan would be to meet the patient and their parents in a private room to explain the aims of our genomic research and how they could participate, hopefully consenting with a signature.
On this particular day, the mood in the room matched the gloom of an impending thunderstorm across the Chicago skyline. It was immediately apparent that this child was not only a new rare-disease candidate but a young cancer patient whose tumors had returned. In this moment our science felt like the least important topic to discuss, but most pediatric cancers are considered rare and this would be the most uniquely informative sample we’ve ever obtained. Both parents and child listened attentively when we discussed the many ways we would learn from using two tablespoons of blood after all other necessary diagnostic tubes.
The most difficult part of having this conversation was always timing; we were speaking to patients who have just received news that would change their entire lives. We did our best to explain the studies in detail, but it was difficult not to feel like we added to their worries. These strong emotions meant we sometimes left patient rooms holding back tears or, while waiting for blood tubes, watched as family members exited with exhaustive sighs. However, we owed it to them to continue with our research work and essentially honor their donation.
A sample of this magnitude meant taking every precaution to store a sample securely. It required a team effort, managing the delicate time in between sample collection and long-term storage. The moment whole blood, plasma, serum and/or tissue biopsies were collected, our rule was to process and get the biomaterial into long-term cold storage as quickly as possible. We may have de-identified a patient’s sample, but we didn’t lose its significance as a scientific contribution.
Whether we planned on using the sample in the coming weeks or several years, we relied on the performance and capacity of our -80°C ultra-low temperature freezers. We found the correct ULT resources to maintain the equipment and ensure our future experiments would be precise and accurate. That was a memorable evening in biobanking, and I’m confident that through our efforts, the sample is safely stored, ready to use as genomic technologies advance to find the link between rare-disease and pediatric cancer.
Written by Wilfredo Marín, Sr. Product Application Specialist, Biobanking and Cryopreservation.