new lab to promote best practice in biospecimen research

UNSW-new-lab-space-(1).pngIn 2024, UNSW will open three new laboratories alongside clinical units within the new Prince of Wales Hospital Acute Services Building (ASB). One will be dedicated to biospecimen services.

In the integrated eastern extension of the ASB, UNSW will house state-of-the-art research, clinical innovation, biomedical and teaching facilities across 10 floors and approximately 5,000 square metres. The space will include three wet-research laboratories.

The level two laboratory will focus on collection, processing, storage and distribution of clinical biospecimens for use in research. A biospecimen is any sample contributed by a patient or research participant. Biospecimens include blood, tears, tumour tissue, hair and saliva, amongst others. Consenting patients can donate samples that are collected during surgery, provided by the NSW Pathology service, or given as part of a clinical trial.

UNSW Biospecimen Services currently has over 40,000 specimens from nearly 5,000 participants available for research in its Health Precincts Biobank. The Biospecimen Services team receives, processes and stores these samples for researchers to then use on their projects.

Samples are de-identified to protect the privacy of the donor, annotated with useful information, and safely stored in the UNSW Biorepository before distribution to researchers. The samples are used only by researchers with ethically approved studies which may include disease testing, diagnosis and analysis. Biospecimen Services helps researchers with their own collection protocols, including assistance with ethics, liaising with clinicians and pathology services, and secure storage of samples and data.

Dr Carl Power, who heads Preclinical Imaging and Biospecimen Research facilities at UNSW, helped design the new laboratory and sees the benefit of co-locating in the hospital.

“What is most exciting about the new laboratory is that we will be working adjacent to clinicians, surgeons and those working in pathology.”

“The location within the ASB will put us in closer proximity to patients. It’s essential to be able to explain to patients and their families why donating is important and how that one little sample can contribute to helping others,” he said.

Anusha-(1).pngDr Anusha Hettiaratchi manages UNSW’s Biospecimen Services, which will expand into the new space. She agrees co-location within the hospital is key.

“Timing is critical. With this new lab, we will be able to reduce the time between receiving a sample from a patient and getting it into the lab for use by researchers. It ensures sample quality is maintained, contributing to excellent research.”

The facility will service university researchers, industry partners and students working on specific research projects, and will also be a resource for clinicians who are interested in doing research. The laboratory will support both researcher-driven and institutional biospecimen collections from consented participants.

Recently, UNSW Biospecimen Services received NSW Health Pathology's certification as part of the NSW Health Statewide Biobanking Framework Biobank Certification Program.

The Biospecimen Services team is excited about building the precinct’s biospecimen repository and using the collections to help future research.

“Our goal is to support good projects. Whether supporting researchers to get their own collection or utilising samples already collected and stored within the Health Precincts Biobank, we can help them at each step,” Anusha said.

The laboratory will be run as part of UNSW’s Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre, which manages major laboratory instruments and services used by researchers.