Virtual biobank will give researchers access to human cancer tissues thanks to Hunter academics

Easy access: Dr William Palmer, Dr Jamie Flynn and Dr Antony Martin developed The Virtual Biobank as an open resource to accelerate and enhance cancer research.
Easy access: Dr William Palmer, Dr Jamie Flynn and Dr Antony Martin developed The Virtual Biobank as an open resource to accelerate and enhance cancer research.

RESEARCHERS all over the world will have access to 3D copies of human cancer tissues at the click of a button thanks to an online platform developed by Hunter academics.

The Virtual Biobank, developed by University of Newcastle and HMRI academics, will digitise and help speed up the process of accessing vital tissue samples donated by patients, which up until now could only be requested through physical biobanks. 

“We’ve taken a tiny sample from tumor biopsies stored at the Hunter Cancer Biobank and converted them into a virtual copy, enabling anyone around the world with an internet connection to carry out research from their computers or easily request access to the physical sample they need,” Dr Jamie Flynn, a chief investigator on the project, said.

“This process ensures the physical sample remains intact, but a 3D, digital copy with clinical and experimental information is kept online for future use. This is particularly critical for rare cancers, which are hard to study due to a limited number of samples.”

Working with the University of Newcastle’s Hunter Cancer Biobank based at HMRI, Dr Flynn and his colleagues have uploaded the first 20 breast cancer samples to The Virtual Biobank with accompanying clinical descriptions.

 “It currently takes many months before researchers are able to obtain tissue samples from a physical biobank and carry out investigations with it,” Dr Flynn said.

“Once a researcher has performed their study, that sample typically cannot be reused.

“Each digital cancer sample in The Virtual Biobank is made up of high resolution microscopy images in both 2D and 3D, plus important clinical and molecular information that provides the foundation for virtual research into cancer.”

The Virtual Biobank aims to work with biobanks around the country to continue uploading a variety of cancer tissues onto the platform. Visit virtualbiobank.newcastle.edu.au to find out more.