Biospecimens – tissue or fluids derived from patients and banked for research – form the foundation for a significant proportion of cancer research. Researchers apply to a biobank for specimens matching certain criteria and the data generated from experiments with those specimens drive new discoveries in understanding how cancer develops and in developing new therapies.
Discovering the existence of biospecimens has traditionally been a challenge for UHN researchers. Biospecimens are stored in multiple UHN biobanks and data on those biospecimens are segregated – the personnel working for one biobank can only see what’s in their own bank and not what’s in the other UHN banks.
The Cancer Informatics team at TECHNA, under the direction of the Princess Margaret Data Science program, developed Biospecimen Portal, a web-based application that allows UHN researchers to search for biospecimens across multiple participating biobanks.
Biospecimen Portal solves the particular problem of discovering biospecimens related to those that have already been used within a lab, a process that until now has involved numerous back-and-forth emails and phone calls with multiple biobanks. The application represents one step in an overall effort to facilitate data flow in support of research and innovation while safeguarding patient privacy.