Chinese hospital leaders' visit positions IU as a leader in biobanking

Jan. 23, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS -- A visit from top Chinese hospital administrators to the Indiana University School of Medicine is cementing the university's reputation as a leader in the field of biobanking, the practice of storing biological samples for use in research.

The Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute hosted the presidents of two of the largest medical hospitals in Beijing, China, as well as other international administrators and researchers on Jan. 17 as part of a visit focused on learning new ways to improve medical sample management for research and discovery.

"This visit was a way to give a first-hand look at how our systems are built and run -- both at the academic institution and within the health care system," said Anantha Shekhar, M.D., Ph.D., associate vice president for university clinical affairs at IU and director of the Indiana CTSI, who serves as U.S. co-director of the scientific advisory board for the Sino-American Symposium on Clinical and Translational Medicine. "Between the IU School of Medicine's nine campuses across the state; its partnerships with statewide health care systems such as IU Health; and a highly robust, standardized electronic medical record system, supported by the Regenstrief Institute, our system's ability to collect, analyze and act upon health data to advance new medical discoveries is an outstanding model."

Dr. Shekhar is also associate dean for translational research, the Raymond E. Houk Professor of Psychiatry and a professor of neurobiology and pharmacology and toxicology at the IU School of Medicine. The Indiana CTSI is a National Institutes of Health-funded collaboration among Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame established in 2008 to improve research infrastructure for the acceleration of lab research into new patient treatments and therapies across Indiana and beyond.

Members of the 15-member delegation included Li Ning, M.D., president of Beijing's You'an Hospital at the Capital Medical University; Jiafu Ji, M.D., president of the Peking University Cancer Hospital and Institute; and Hong Zhang, vice president of a hospital affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Military Medical Sciences. The group visited multiple facilities managed by the Indiana CTSI at the IU School of Medicine, including the Indiana Biobank, a statewide sample collection and storage system that provides scientists access to physical samples, such as blood or saliva, for use in research to improve health and health care in Indiana.  

The Indiana Biobank stores samples related to specific research studies as well as materials from volunteers across the state. It currently contains 13,000 samples from individuals with conditions such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, asthma and depression representing men, women and children across multiple races and ethnic groups.

The biobank also features close integration with Indiana Network for Patient Care, an electronic record system containing data on more than 12 million people, including individuals who've contributed to the biobank. This means a physician-scientist working to advance treatment for a specific disease in a specific patient population, such as children with cystic fibrosis or African-American men with type 2 diabetes, can quickly determine whether they can access enough relevant samples to proceed with their research. All data in the biobank remains anonymous prior to careful review and approval from the university's internal review board.

Information provided to the Chinese delegation included physical documentation on proper sample handling, storage and processing; advice regarding patient outreach; and bioethical considerations related to use of human tissues.

Additional Indiana CTSI-managed resources toured during the delegation's visit included fully equipped, continually staffed hospital facilities, maintained in partnership with IU Health, where patients may stay during participation in clinical research studies; lab space used to process and analyze medical samples after its collection during patient visits; and a highly advanced, secure centralized freezer storage system where samples are kept at extreme low temperatures until needed by researchers to advance investigations on specific diseases.

Internationally known medical collections stored in these freezers include the National Cell Repository for Alzheimer's Disease, an NIH-funded project that stores biological samples related to Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and the Komen Tissue Bank at the IU Simon Cancer Center, the world's only collection of healthy breast tissue. The facility also serves as the physical site of the Indiana Biobank.

"Overall, this collaboration is trying to advance clinical and translational research in China, including topics such as biobank and biomarkers, bioethics, bioinformatics, big data and best practices in translational research," said Tim Z. Shi, M.D., Ph.D., executive director for international physician’s group Global MD, who helped coordinate the visit as the Chinese co-director of the scientific advisory board for the Sino-American Symposium on Clinical and Translational Medicine. "Biobanking is a core foundation for translational research. If we want to create world-class biobanks, we've got to understand the highest international standards."

Dr. Shekhar will return to China for the next meeting of the Sino-American Symposium on Clinical and Translational Medicine in June.

The Indiana CTSI aims to facilitate the translation of scientific discoveries in the lab into new patient treatments in Indiana and beyond. It was established in 2008 with a Clinical and Translational Science Award totaling nearly $60 million from the National Center for Advancing Translational Science at the National Institutes of Health (Grants UL1TR001108, KL2TR001106, TL1TR001107, UL1TR00006-05S2, KL2TR000163-05S1, TL1TR000162-05S1, TR000006, TR000163 and TR000162; PI: A. Shekhar) with additional support from the state, the three member universities, and public and private partners. It is a member of the national network of more than 60 CTSA-funded organizations across the country.