A Comprehensive Cancer Center Designated by the National Cancer Institute

Pathways to Discovery: Fall 2013

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The Human Tissue Resource Center Fosters Translational Research

The Human Tissue Resource Center (HTRC) remains one of the most widely used core facilities at the University of Chicago. It offers investigators a centralized infrastructure to optimize the efficiency and costs related to research involving biospecimens, such as tissue, urine, blood, cells, DNA, RNA, and protein.

Led by Scientific Director Mark W. Lingen, DDS, PhD, professor of pathology, a team of research and pathology professionals ensures appropriate collection, storage, and distribution of research-quality human biospecimens for University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center (UCCCC) investigators. The HTRC currently provides services for 160 Institutional Review Board (IRB)-approved studies. The HTRC interacts with the UCCCC’s Epidemiology and Research Recruitment Core to help recruit study participants and collect biological specimens.

Access to data from large cohorts of patients is critical for the development of more effective personalized cancer treatment and prevention strategies. The HTRC has also recently begun supporting the Chicago Multiethnic Prevention and Surveillance Study by processing and storing the blood samples collected from study subjects in the community.

From the time it was established, the HTRC has banked more than 250,000 samples. Over the past two years, the HTRC has undergone extensive renovations and equipment upgrades to further streamline efficiency and help researchers achieve their objectives. Now comprising 2,500 square feet of space in the hospital’s pathology department, the HTRC established a unified “freezer farm” to store its growing collection of biospecimens.

Relocating the freezers freed up space to install additional research benches in the HTRC facility. “The renovation has allowed us to consolidate our freezers in a safe and dependable way and also improve our workflow in terms of the other services we offer,” said Dr. Lingen.

In addition, the HTRC implemented a new digital pathology image analysis system called Aperio, which 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. By integrating image capture, viewing, management, and analysis solutions into a single workflow, Aperio helps scientists accelerate basic research and drug discoveries.

In September, the HTRC acquired the newest version of the Leica Laser Microdissection (LMD) System. LMD is an advanced microscope that makes it possible to isolate cells or tissues of interest. The device uses a laser to separate a group of cells in a designated area from the rest of the tissue on the slide. Gravity causes only those selected cells to fall into a tube under the stage of the microscope.

“Investigators then know that they’re capturing a relatively pure population of cells for whatever they want to study,” said Dr. Lingen. “It allows them to ask something specific about a particular type of tissue with less interference from background noise.”

Biospecimens are an ever-growing critical component to translational research, according to Dr. Lingen. The HTRC provides investigators with a streamlined mechanism to collect biospecimens and use them in histology, immunohistochemistry, laser capture microdissection, and image analysis.

“Both in vitro and in vivo work in animals are important, but at the end of the day, if you’re talking about a diagnostic or therapeutic biomarker, you ultimately need to validate it in humans,” he said.