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Revamped biobank brings together clinical care and research

Illustration by Polly Becker
Oct 2 2019

A new approach to biobanking that streamlines sample storage and processing is enabling Stanford scientists and doctors to pursue new lines of research.

By Hanae Armitage

The basic idea of the new Stanford Biobank is to keep precious biological patient samples -- things like blood, stool or saliva -- safe and preserved for research purposes. Since 2017, when the facility got a major update, it has helped store samples for nearly 200 research projects. In one of my latest magazine stories, I describe how that happened and how it's elevating research at Stanford.

...[In] 2017 Stanford Medicine revamped its approach, adding new on- and off-campus freezer storage and streamlined sample tracking systems that capture clinical data annotations in real time. Another addition: a secure portal allowing scientists to share and access data from different samples and freely apply it to their research. For now, only Stanford scientists can access the samples and data, which are stripped of personal patient information to protect privacy.

The biobank is right at the intersection of patient care and molecular data, bringing together clinical care and research, co-founder Rohit Gupta, who is now chief biobank officer at the University of California, San Francisco, told me.

In one noteworthy case, the facility stored and processed samples for a team of scientists and doctors -- including immunologist and pathologist Ansuman Satpathy, MD, PhD -- allowing them to investigate how immune cells attack skin cancer tumors and respond during immune-based treatments.

'It wasn't feasible for one lab to get the samples from the clinic and process them day and night as patients come in -- especially in a way that enables smooth downstream analysis,' said Satpathy, who is now an assistant professor of pathology at Stanford.

Biobank staff helped with that...

'It's almost like you're working with another academic lab,' said Satpathy. 'It's that type of true collaboration, with both parties equally invested, and that's what makes this biobank such a valuable resource.'