The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Breast Cancer

October 3, 2011

Windber Research Institute adding freezers to tissue bank

— Growth opportunities are already showing up at Windber Research Institute through its association with the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Crews have been cleaning out an unused office at the Windber facility to make room for additional tissue banking freezers, Richard Mural, chief scientific officer, said.

New freezers are being installed to receive frozen tissue specimens from the U.S. Military Cancer Institute’s research program.

The cancer institute is contracting with Windber to handle its biobanking, Mural said.

The new partnership with Military Cancer Institute grew out of the closing of venerated Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and its reinvention as part of a joint military services health complex on the National Navy Medical Center campus in Bethesda.

Windber leaders see the contract as a vote of confidence in Windber’s facility and research team, Mural said. The Military Cancer Institute joins the Walter Reed-based Clinical Breast Care Project in partnering with Windber.

Tissue and blood specimens collected during breast biopsies at Walter Reed have been stored at Windber since it was founded in 2001.

“The USMCI is part of this new group of cancer programs (at Walter Reed),” Mural said.

“We take that as a good sign.

“We have everything that is required for repository to the highest standard,” said Stella Somiari, tissue bank senior director.

“They thought it would be a good idea to store the specimens here rather than redesign a whole new facility at Walter Reed.”

Windber scientists will have limited access to the cancer institute’s tissues, if the projects meet cancer institute approval, Mural said.

But the expansion of the

tissue bank is the most exciting development, leaders stress.

“There will be more than just breast samples,” Mural said.

“They have a full range of tissue samples they have been collecting, and want to continue collecting.”

Windber’s reputation for quality control and record keeping may encourage more Walter Reed research groups to bring their tissue samples to Somerset County, Mural noted.

“The collection of biospecimens and clinical demographics – life history data – has been really well defined (at Windber),” Mura said. “Some of the other Walter Reed programs don’t have tissue collection going on.”

Windber’s specimen collecting procedures were set up through the Walter Reed partnership. It contains thousands of blood and tissue samples donated by patients undergoing breast biopsies at Walter Reed and the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center in Windber. The system consistently has produced high-quality research samples.

“The chances of doing that in a military hospital are great,” Mural said.

“The structure is better able to have standard operating procedures and common protocol.

“You want to be very unified on how you do your biobanking.

“We have the possibility of becoming one of the central tissue banks.”

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