GRAND RAPIDS — The Van Andel Institute and two West Michigan hospitals within the national Trinity Health system and members of Mercy Health – Saint Mary’s Health Care and Mercy Health Partners – have signed agreements paving the way for the expansion of a biorepository, using the VAI Program for Biospecimen Science.

Biorepositories store tissue and biospecimens, along with health data donated by patients. Both biorepositories and archived data have become crucial engines of genetic, genomic, and other types of medical research, as well as advanced diagnostic procedures and treatment options.

The Van Andel Institute Program for Biospecimen Science recently became one of only seven biorepositories in the nation accredited by the College of American Pathologists. The PBS serves as the coordinating facility for the prospective collection of biological specimens in West Michigan and as a clearinghouse for the processing, storage, and isolation of specimens to fuel biomedical discovery at VAI and partnering institutions. The PBS also conducts scientific evidence-based practices to advance the field of biospecimen science.

“This biorepository agreement is a natural extension of the collaborative relationship we have had for years with the Van Andel Institute,” said Phil McCorkle, Saint Mary’s President and CEO. “Saint Mary’s and VAI have a solid history of bringing research to our patients and community, as evidenced by our Parkinson’s disease and cancer research, as well as the Clinical Trial Unit at Saint Mary’s.”

“We look forward to strengthening our partnership with the Van Andel Institute,” said Roger Spoelman, President and CEO, Mercy Health Partners and Regional Executive, Mercy Health. “Through this and our other research efforts here at Mercy Health Partners, we continue not only to provide world-class patient care, but we are providing important opportunities for our patients to participate in groundbreaking cancer research.”

Biorepositories require a substantial investment to build and maintain.  Sophisticated, prefabricated freezers capable of maintaining the low temperatures required to store blood and other tissue samples can start at $1 million, so it is cost effective for multiple organizations to partner in growing an established biorepository.

Biorepositories also meet the growing demand for reliable, well-documented biospecimens utilized in the field of disease research.  A significant obstacle in developing new treatments for diseases has been the lack of well-annotated associated clinical samples and processing data of uniformly collected biospecimen research samples.

“Van Andel Institute’s Program for Biospecimen Science also has been designated as the only Comprehensive Biospecimen Resource for the Cancer Human Biobank of the Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research Branch at the National Cancer Institute,” said Scott Jewell, director of VAI’s Program for Biospecimen Science. “The NCI often relies on experts in fields of science to meet gaps in ability or infrastructure, like biorepositories.”

Under the agreements, with patient consent, Saint Mary’s Health Care and Mercy Health Partners will collect biospecimens and approved data and transfer them to the Van Andel Institute Program for Biospecimen Science.  The Institute will store the biospecimens and data using sophisticated processes and equipment and will make the specimens available to physicians and researchers. Saint Mary’s Health Care has already begun operations, and Mercy Health Partners hopes to commence operations within 90 days.

“Over the past five years Saint Mary’s has made a significant investment to build the research infrastructure required to bring leading-edge research and clinical trial opportunities to patients in West Michigan,” said Susan Hoppough, Director of Research & Innovation at Saint Mary’s Health Care. “The Clinical Trial Unit at Saint Mary’s is the first in West Michigan to focus on patients interested in early phase research.  Research using biospecimen samples like those stored in the VAI Biorepository is critical to early discovery of new therapies that will benefit patients living in the West Michigan region and beyond. We are excited to be working with Van Andel Research Institute and our colleagues at Mercy Health Partners.”

“This is another significant collaboration between research and clinical entities of West Michigan’s biomedical research and life sciences corridor,” said Van Andel Institute chairman and CEO David Van Andel.  “The agreement will help increase competitiveness for research funding, enhance recruitment, produce discoveries advancing the understanding of treatment and disease, and most importantly, achieve improved patient outcomes.”

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