AzTransNet launches with biorepository research policy retreat

February 1, 2007

By hammersmith

The Arizona Translational Resource Network (AzTransNet) kicked off its 2007 activities Wednesday with a gathering at the Phoenix Airport Marriott of more than 130 researchers, policymakers, administrators, and lawyers.

Prominent figures in the national and Arizona biosciences industry discussed a variety of topics related to using “biospecimens” (human tissue) for research, including Arizona’s strengths in biorepository research. Issues discussed included institutional review boards (IRBs), a review of research involving biospecimens, ways to protect individuals who donate their tissue for research, and policies affecting tissue transfer.

Dr. Anna D. Barker, deputy director for advanced technologies and strategic partnerships at the National Cancer Institute, was the morning keynote speaker and Mr. Greg Simon, president of Faster Cures/The Center for Advancing Medical Cures, addressed the lunch session. Dr. Barker remarked that she was impressed at the number of people in Arizona interested in biorespositories — this Arizona conference pulled more people than many national conferences on the same topic—and that Arizona is at the cutting edge of these issues.

The “Tissue Issue: Ethical and Legal Issues in Biorepository Research” retreat represents a critical step in implementing the recommendations of the Translational Research Pathway Project Advisory Committee.

Set out in a June 2006 strategic report jointly sponsored by the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission and the Flinn Foundation, these near- and long-term recommendations include the institution of technical policy development retreats. Such meetings would focus on tackling difficult issues for the research community in Arizona to harmonize approaches to these issues and smoothing the path to collaboration.

In the case of biorepositories – places, rooms, or containers in which human biospecimens are stored—this includes a number of ethical and legal issues, such as informed consent to donate the biospecimens and best practices in handling the biospecimens.

Also knows as “tissue banks,” biorepositories represent a major area of opportunity for Arizona.

Although the state’s bioindustry is young, its youth also means that it is not entrenched in less effective traditional practices for dealing with these issues. And, according to Battelle’s report, this nimbleness—combined with the presence of such world-renowned facilities as the Sun Health Research Institute brain bank and Barrow Neurological Institute neurological tissue collection, spells opportunity for the state.

For example, Arizona’s own International Genomics Consortium (IGC), in collaboration with Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), was selected recently to host the Human Cancer Biospecimen Core Resource (BCR), a national tissue bank of specimens for The Cancer Genome Atlas Project (TCGA). The TCGA hopes to track genetic changes that occur in cancer cells to better understand how to target therapies for cancer.

The program will build on IGC’s original Expression Project for Oncology (expO), an innovative program that established a database of genetic information from tumor tissues for access by researchers across the country.

Biorepositories and translational research (research concerned with taking discoveries from the laboratory to the patient for the treatment or prevention of disease) go hand-in-hand. The more genetic, metabolic, and biological information researchers can gather on a given disease, the more effectively they can treat research that disease – with the ultimate goal of moving from broad treatments to specific, personalized medicine.

AzTransNet has other projects underway to support translational research in Arizona, including an IRB Networking Forum to provide a place for IRB professionals to discuss administration and to develop common approaches. The organization is also piloting the collaborative Arizona Clinical Research Consortium, which will create an infrastructure for researchers to reach out to community physicians to get them involved in research. AzTransNet is also exploring ways to establish collaborative IRB review to expedite the research process in Arizona.

For more information:

Seizing the Translational Research Opportunity in Arizona,” Battelle, June 2006

Three institutes move tissue banking to the forefront of Arizona science, 11/27/2006