Empowering researchers and reducing barriers to research: a recipe for biospecimen driven research initiatives

Biospecimen driven research is estimated to account for up to 40% of health research. Human biospecimens are obtained for research from normal subjects and patients, either directly during medical procedures, or indirectly from clinical archives and research biobanks (collections of biospecimens and data to support future health research). The latter sources involve complex interactions at ethical, legal and operational levels at the intersection between research and clinical care.

A major challenge for researchers is how to decide what the best way is to obtain the biospecimens they need for their research programs. These options usually entail:
  1. finding established collections in existing biobanks (existing research infrastructure).
  2. fostering a collaboration or making a contract with an established biobank that is able to acquire the necessary biospecimens.
  3. establishing their own new collection of biospecimens.

Each option comes with its own additional challenges, such as locating existing collections, getting up to speed with the operational requirements, or acquiring knowledge of the process of biobanking, which includes building relationships with clinical collaborators and teams to establish a new collection.

Recently, our unit – the UBC Office of Biobank Education and Research (OBER) - was awarded a UBC Faculty of Medicine Strategic Investment Fund (SIF) award to address this problem. Our project includes the development and operationalization of the Biospecimen Navigator Platform (BNP) – an initiative that will guide researchers in determining the best option to obtain biospecimens for their research.

The BNP will consist of:
  • an online decision support tool;
  • online education and operational guides;
  • consultation with experts at OBER, linkages and operational tools

These integrated components will help researchers pursue their appropriate option for finding biospecimens: researchers will have the support they require to first determine how to obtain the biospecimens they need for their specific research, and then to pursue this course of action.

We anticipate the BNP will go live, early August, 2020.

As we commence work on this exciting project we have assembled a College of Advisors comprised of researchers and leaders across the spectrum of life science research; we will draw input and feedback from them as we develop this initiative to ensure its wide applicability. We anticipate the BNP will go live, early August, 2020.

We have a great deal of exciting work ahead of us. We feel the BNP will be a unique resource to empower researchers; reduce time to identify biospecimens for research; and most importantly, benefit patient focused research in the Province of BC. We see this as a winning recipe for future successes of our BC health research community.