Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tissue Banking in the "Cloud"

NCI’s Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG®) is an information network enabling everyone in the cancer community such as researchers, physicians, and patients to share data and knowledge. NCI’s goal is to connect science and practitioners through a shareable and interoperable infrastructure.

By establishing the information network, NCI is transforming biospecimen management operations at their NCI Community Cancer Centers Program (NCCCP) using a combination of caBIG® and cloud computing technology. Cloud computing is a concept relying on computer networks harnessed together by the internet to handle computer data.

NCI’s October “caBIG Links” newsletter reports how a team at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange California, a participant in NCI’s CCCP, is working with caBIG® support on a ground breaking effort to manage tissue samples in the “cloud.”

St Joseph Hospital knew that they wanted to work with NCI’s knowledge in this area and implement a biospecimen repository in the “cloud”. However, the startup costs and labor needed to manage biomedical samples and related information was initially too great for the hospital but fortunately additional funding came in 2009 through a local family foundation. The foundation’s family had a son who was treated for cancer at St Joseph and was so impressed with their dedication to developing a Biospecimen Repository that the family foundation donated $100,000 to support the project.

At that point, St Joseph’s Executive Medical Director, Dr. Lawrence Wagman and Chief of Pathology Dr. Aaron Sassoon, assembled a biospecimen team. The team included the pathology manager, a colorectal surgeon, anesthesiologist, and IT architect Joshua Mann. The team discussed their needs, the planning process, and how they were going to accurately annotate the specimens to ensure compliance with NCI.

To answer critical questions, the team turned to Christiana Care Health Services headquartered in Wilmington Delaware for some guidance since Christiana was developing a similar model for the kind of biospecimen repository needed at St. Joseph. At this point, Christiana was customizing their “ca Tissue” module supplied by NCI.

Leveraging the policies and procedures already well established by Christiana Care, the team set out to launch a similar biobanking effort. Joshua Mann’s plan was to implement St. Joseph’s own “ca Tissue” with one major difference. The system would not be installed at St Joseph’s but would be hosted offsite and access to data and information would occur “in the cloud” to make it simple for all sites to access.

“The implementation of “caTissue” at St. Joseph’s marks the beginning of a broader effort to digitize all of health information collected and stored onsite. We started off with a completely manual process to manage specimens collected onsite but when “caTissue” is fully online, we will be able to use a bar-coding system to track the specimens and be able to link to clinical and other information associated with a given sample,” reports Maria Gonzalez, Cancer Research Manager at St Joseph’s Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment.