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Located at the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute, the biobank provides complete histology services; collection, processing and storing of biospecimens; and DNA and RNA extraction for biospecimen quality control.

Published Jan 19th, 2021

By Lindsay Lyle
lalyle@health.southalabama.edu

The USA Health Biobank is now open to support the biomedical research efforts of the health system and the university. Located at the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute, the biobank provides complete histology services; collection, processing and storing of biospecimens; and DNA and RNA extraction for biospecimen quality control.

Previously, the biobank’s purpose was to support cancer research by biobanking biospecimens from cancer patients mainly from the Mitchell Cancer Institute. After being closed from 2018 to 2020, USA College of Medicine leaders and the biobank team have worked to revive the biobank – starting with the name change to encompass the entire health system – and offer comprehensive services for investigators. The process included securing all necessary Institutional Review Board (IRB) approvals and equipment for histology services and biospecimen quality control.

One of the new services for researchers being offered by the USA Health Biobank is histology services for human and animal tissues, which covers tissue embedding, cutting and staining.

“The purpose of the histology services is to focus on research, and the biobank is equipped with all the necessary tools to perform high-quality histology services in an adequate period of time at very competitive prices,” said Elba A. Turbat-Herrera, M.D., director of the biobank.

Turbat-Herrera, professor of pathology and interdisciplinary clinical oncology, came to the USA College of Medicine from Louisiana State University School of Medicine, Shreveport, where she was the director of the LSU Biobank from 2012 to 2018.

Until now, USA investigators had to request histology services from University Hospital or the USA College of Medicine’s Department of Comparative Medicine. “In the hospital, the priority of the histology services is to patients’ biopsies; and in the vivarium, the load of tissues to process sometimes exceeded the capacity of the facility,” Turbat-Herrera said.

The histology services laboratory is equipped with a tissue processor, an embedding station, a cryostat, a microtome, a staining station and an immunohistochemistry autostainer. The space allocated for biospecimen processing and DNA and RNA extraction for biospecimen quality control analysis is equipped with systems and instruments from QIAGEN.

To provide biobanking services, the storage laboratory has four -80ºC freezers and two cryogenic liquid nitrogen freezers for storage of the de-identified biospecimens, and cabinets for storage of tissue paraffin blocks.

The USA Health Biobank is able to collect and store biospecimens donated by patient volunteers, non-patient volunteers and the USA Department of Pathology. The biobank can assist investigators who request collection of biospecimens in establishing effective protocols for collecting and processing the requested biospecimens.

“We would like to thank Mary Townsley, Ph.D., and John Marymont, M.D., for all their guidance and support,” Turbat-Herrera said, adding her appreciation for everyone who made it possible to purchase the necessary equipment.

The USA Health Biobank plans to have a website soon. For more information and applicable fees, email usahealthbiobank@health.southalabama.edu.

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