Biobank Constructing Super-Cool Facility

Freezers at the new Cedars-Sinai Biobank and Translational Research Core Facility can chill biospecimens down to minus 180 degrees centigrade.

At Cedars-Sinai's Steven Spielberg Building, a major transformation is taking place. Construction crews are preparing nearly 7,000 square feet on the first floor to house the Cedars-Sinai Biobank and Translational Research Core Facility. Completion is expected in November.

No ordinary renovation, this work, funded by a $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, entails installing two giant tanks of super-cooled liquid nitrogen behind the building and a specially designed air conditioning system. A backup generator will ensure a steady power supply to the facility.

Every feature is designed with one goal in mind: protecting thousands of blood and tissue specimens that medical scientists scrutinize for clues to the mysteries of human illness.

The new quarters will centralize biospecimen storage and support new prospective collection protocols. They also will provide researchers with a full suite of annotated biospecimen management, quality control and distribution services to maximize the utilization of tissue samples. About a dozen people will staff the operation.

The construction project is an outgrowth of a long-term institutional initiative, envisioned in 2007 by Mahul Amin, MD, professor and chair of Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, to create an integrated, state-of-the-art biobank. In 2011, Beatrice Knudsen, MD, PhD, arrived to lead the effort as medical director of the biobank and director of translational pathology.

The new facility will advance the biobank's goals on several fronts, Knudsen said. "We can ramp up the collection," she explained. "We're also going to have a lot more laboratory space, with clinical-grade instrumentation, to allow for early test development." She said she envisions the space as "very interactive," supporting consultations and educational sessions for researchers. "We're trying to make a connection between the scientists who make discoveries and translation to patient care," she said.

Workers prepare the interior of the new facility.

For Osvaldo Diaz, senior architect and project coordinator with the Cedars-Sinai Facilities Planning, Design and Construction team, retrofitting the Spielberg Building has posed unique challenges. "It's very complicated — and unique," he said during a recent tour.

For instance, much of the construction takes place in a narrow alley behind the building that must remain open for fire exits. Instead of regular air conditioning, the team is installing a more economical technology, known as chilled beam, which "radiates" cold rather than relying on air movement, Diaz said.

And then there are those liquid nitrogen tanks. The larger one is 3,000 gallons and about 24 feet high. The tanks will feed 42 freezers inside the building that can maintain biospecimens in vapor chilled to minus 180 degrees centigrade — conditions that promote superior stability in specimens. In addition, the site will have 32 freezers, based on traditional compressor technology, that can achieve minus 80 degrees centigrade.

Initially, the focus will be on providing full access to the new biobank facility to Cedars-Sinai researchers and their collaborators, said Mark Daniel, vice president for research administration. But in the future, he added, the goal will be to make this resource fully available to Cedars-Sinai’s partner institutions in the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

The project reported in this article was supported by the National Institutes of Health under award number 1 G20 RR030860-01.