Biobank Opens Futuristic Research Facility

Research associate Nathan Ing (right) discusses the imaging capabilities of the Biobank and Translational Research Core with a visitor at its open house.

Cedars-Sinai marked a milestone when it opened the doors of a futuristic facility where researchers can store millions of tissue and blood samples, analyze them and generate an array of digital images to advance scientific discovery.

"This is like a James Bond movie," said Jean Lopategui, MD, medical director of Molecular Pathology and Clinical Cytogenetics, evoking the high-tech world of the cinematic series. He joined a throng of visitors at a June 29 open house for the vast, gleaming complex.

The nearly 7,000-square-foot facility, on the first floor of the Steven Spielberg Building, is operated by the Biobank and Translational Research Core. It realizes a decade-long dream of institutional leaders.

In remarks to visitors, Mahul Amin, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, explained how the facility can fulfill Cedars-Sinai's dual missions of serving science and the community. The ultimate goal is "to make every patient at Cedars-Sinai a part of a living laboratory ... and to bring all these exciting discoveries to patients," he said.

The complex is divided into three units. One is devoted to collecting and preserving biospecimens, another to research pathology and the third to digital image analysis. Each unit has its own state-of the-art equipment.

One room houses 30 liquid nitrogen dewars, each of which can maintain 38,000 samples in nitrogen vapor chilled to minus 180 degrees centigrade. Another houses 20 traditional, compressor-powered freezers, each of which can chill up to 100,000 samples to minus 80 degrees centigrade. More storage units can be added, as needed.

Dewars maintain blood and tissue samples in nitrogen vapor chilled to minus 180 degrees centigrade.

The pathology unit provides equally powerful hardware. Using a single slide, researchers can stain three or four antibodies or identify and analyze up to 10 million nuclei in cells, said Beatrice Knudsen, MD, PhD, medical director of the Biobank and director of Translational Pathology. In the imaging unit, scanners can extract quantitative data on proteins and cell structures from scores of slides in a single run.

But the Biobank and Translational Research Core is more than the sum of its parts. The complex connects "the whole pipeline" of research, from specimen collection to data output from the specimens, Knudsen explained. "This is a unique place with a high level of integration," she said.

Cedars-Sinai's information technology plays an important role in the endeavor. Software already tracks the location, by storage unit and tray, of each of the 45,000 current biospecimens, collected from 3,000 patients. Future plans call for clinical annotation of each specimen, including demographic data and lab test results, according to Spencer SooHoo, PhD, director of scientific computing and chief security officer for Enterprise Information Services.

While impressive, the opening of the biobank facility is just the first step on an ambitious journey. The facility's success will be judged by how well it serves science and patients, Shlomo Melmed, MD, senior vice president of Academic Affairs and dean of the medical faculty, told visitors who assembled for remarks from Cedars-Sinai leaders. "Now it's time to get to work," he said.

Beatrice Knudsen, MD, PhD, medical director of the Biobank and director of Translational Pathology, with compressor-powered freezers that can each store up to 100,000 specimens.