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Two Thousand Consents and Counting

 

The receipt of the 2000th HSA Biobank patient consent form this month marks a significant milestone for the biobank project, reaffirming the bank as one of the most valuable translational research resources in NSW.

The biobank, a joint initiative between UNSW Australia and the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District, houses tumour, blood and saliva samples and clinical data from consenting cancer patients undergoing  cancer surgery at participating NSW hospitals. 

Unlike more traditional biobanking projects, the HSA Biobank houses samples from patients with multiple cancer types that are made available to translational cancer researchers anywhere in Australia.

“We’ve tried to develop a resource that is meaningful and accessible to researchers conducting projects across all translational cancer stages and cancer all cancer types,” said Stephanie Macmillan, Program Manager of theTranslational Cancer Research Network ("TCRN") at UNSW, which has long championed the biobanking project. 

“What’s unique about the HSA biobank is that the biospecimens stored in the bank are electronically linked to de-identified patient health data, providing researchers with in-depth information about the samples they use in their research.”

With over 300 new patients agreeing to donate tissue and health data to the biobank over the last year alone, the 2000th consent form highlights the sheer volume of tumour samples that have been collected for storage in the bank. According to Professor Phil Crowe, Head of Surgery at Prince of Wales Hospital and a long-time advocate of the HSA Biobank project, large numbers of tumour samples is good news for researchers.  

“The long term benefit is that, especially now there’s a huge array of new genetic information coming through about cancers and about new treatments, we can now study much larger numbers of tumours to see if any of these treatments are effective,” Professor Crowe said. 

“Most things in cancer treatment and medical treatment are incremental, and they accumulate, so having a large number of patients to study, particularly those with difficult to treat cancers, is important.”

Since its inception, the biobank has been acclaimed for its consent process, which sees patients being asked to donate tissue and health data as part of routine pre-surgical processes. But as the consent figures continue to grow, what’s also becoming evident is that most patients respond positively to the opportunity to contribute to cancer research. 

“The vast majority of people say ‘Please, this is obviously a good thing. Just use my tissue as best you can to help someone in the future,’” Professor Crowe said.

While patients are integral to success of the biobank project, less visible are the university and hospital staff who continue to play key roles in embedding biobank processes into hospital workflows, from acquiring patient consent to preparing samples for storage in the bank. According to Stephanie Macmillan, it’s these staff members who are the backbone of the project and who are ensuring its longevity.

“As well as being a milestone for the biobank project, the 2000th consent also demonstrates the enduring commitment of the clinicians, researchers and support staff who have been championing this project over the last few years,” she said.   


Further information:

- More about the HSA Biobank

The Power of Biobanking