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An already impressive laboratory and freezer storage facility that occupies 2,808 square feet at 60 Murray Street and houses 21 large liquid nitrogen freezers is now one step more advanced: the addition earlier this month of two new robotics platforms will deliver unprecedented quality assurance, efficiency and capacity to enable large-scale studies. 
 
The biospecimen repository (BSR) originated in 1996, when Senior Investigator Dr. Irene Andrulis and her colleagues foresaw the need to have biospecimens collected and stored in a centralized location for their research into various human cancers.
 
Completed in March 2009, the BSR facility provides investigators within and outside Mount Sinai Hospital with accurate, well annotated, high-quality biospecimen processing, storage and shipment for their research needs. This includes services to process biospecimens such as blood, saliva, urine, tumour tissue (fresh frozen or paraffin-embedded) as well as isolate DNA or RNA from these source samples. Upon request, biospecimens are assembled and provided to researchers with proper approvals. Patient data associated with the samples is securely coded and highly confidential.
 
“If you want to conduct meaningful human research, you need large-scale tissue repositories. We are extremely fortunate to have a robust collection of patient tumour samples,” said Dr. Steven Gallinger, Senior Investigator at the Lunenfeld and surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital.
 
The BSR houses tissue samples for his team’s research into colon and pancreatic cancer. The samples hold much promise for research, as they are annotated with relevant clinical data over many years of follow-up. Few centres in North America have access to such a rich source of research data.
 
And now, the addition of the robotics platforms will enable researchers to process high volumes of blood and urine samples with unprecedented efficiency, speed and accuracy—especially to accommodate a massive influx of new specimens for the Ontario Health Study and the Ontario Birth Study.
 
A sophisticated liquid handling system for blood fractionation, as well as a new automated DNA extractor will be used to process samples in the repository. All stages of processing—from label reading, pipetting, centrifugation and DNA extraction—are now handled by the robots, in contrast to the onerous manual handling done previously.
 
Throughput will greatly increase: 48 tubes can be processed in 90 minutes with the robots, whereas the same amount would consume an entire day when completed manually.
 
“We are excited to have these robotics platforms, to provide fast and high-quality services for many more investigators,” says Teresa Selander, Manager of Biospecimen Repository Services.
 
In speaking of the proximity of the facility to the labs of Lunenfeld scientists, Teresa says that “The advantages to our researchers are strict quality assurance, reliable storage and handling, and ease of retrieval. These are incredibly valuable samples – it’s truly a ‘bank’ in our eyes.” 
 
 

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