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Pathways to Discovery: Summer 2011

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Human Tissue Resource Center Expands, Offers More Services to Researchers

Access to [linked tissue] allows for complex genetic analyses, which is critical to the development of individualized therapies.
Leslie Martin

As one of the most widely used core facilities at UChicago, the Human Tissue Resource Center (HTRC) provides research-quality biospecimens to 130 principal investigators from 14 departments. Biospecimens are samples of material––such as tissue, urine, blood, cells, DNA, RNA, and protein––from humans, animals, or plants. One of the HTRC’s primary purposes is to collect clinically annotated, or “linked,” human tissue in response to investigator-initiated research projects.

Linked tissue refers to research tissues that are associated with clinical and patient information. Patient information is from individuals who have agreed that certain details of their medical record, such as how they were treated and their response to treatment, can be used in research studies. Access to data from large cohorts of patients is critical to developing more effective personalized cancer treatment and prevention strategies.

A team of research and pathology professionals led by Scientific Director Mark Lingen, DDS, PhD, and Technical Director Leslie Martin operate the HTRC, comprising four integrated facilities: Biospecimen Bank, which is responsible for collecting, processing, storing, and distributing the tissue; Laser Capture Microdissection, which is the dissection of tissues and cells under a microscope; Pathology Image Analysis; and Immunohistochemistry.

Immunohistochemistry, a technique that identifies specific molecules in different types of tissue using antibodies, is used to help diagnose diseases, such as cancer, and to understand how cells grow and differentiate. The merging of the two facilities brings human and animal biospecimens under a coordinated, centralized, and dedicated program for the procuring, processing, dispersing, and assessing of all types of biospecimens.

The ever-expanding facility has been making software upgrades and equipment purchases to further streamline efficiency and help researchers achieve their objectives. For instance, the facility’s biospecimen banking database, eSphere, has a new feature that allows users to request samples through a withdrawal process akin to Amazon. com. Over a HIPAAcompliant network, investigators can browse through available samples and protocols and make tissue requests.

Each sample’s unique identifying bar code number corresponds to the pathology report, site of biopsy, and other clinical information, such as diagnosis, metastatic sites, gender, and race.

“Having access to this type of information allows for complex genetic analyses, which is critical to the development of individualized therapies,” said Martin.

The HTRC has also made improvements in digital pathology image analysis. An advanced and user-friendly system called Aperio allows researchers to view and quantify images of stained tissue and analyze them using different algorithms that are either pre-populated in the system or created using their own parameters. This can be done via the web with a very high-resolution, userfriendly program that digitally stores images on a secure server. The system
enables researchers to distinguish differences in serial sections and measure distances between tissue structures.

Research Technologist Lei-Ann Arceneaux has assembled a manual, available at pathcore.bsd.uchicago.edu/ APERIO/APERIO_Introduction.shtml, to help UChicago investigators work through the new image analysis process.

“By integrating image capture, viewing, management, and analysis solutions into a single workflow, Aperio helps scientists accelerate basic research and drug discoveries,” said Martin.

Plans for Expansion
The HTRC space soon will undergo renovations to improve workflow and ensure future College of American Pathologists compliance, according to Martin. As part of the expansion process, the cryostats where frozen specimens are stored will eventually be moved to another room and additional research benches will be installed in the current facility.

Martin also revealed that the HTRC is in the planning stages of renovating space on the 5th floor directly below the HTRC for the establishment of a unified “freezer farm” for the growing collection of biospecimens. These upgrades are being funded via an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act supplement awarded to the UCCCC.

“Upgrading our resources and acquiring more space will facilitate high-quality cancer research in a timely manner,” said Martin.