AITHM James Cook University

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Bio-medical research into human diseases requires large volumes of samples, reflecting the diversity of human populations. Biobanks are recognised as the optimal structures for storing human biological samples, from both ‘healthy’ people and those linked with disease diagnosis, while meeting the stringent legal and ethical requirements which guarantee human rights.

The establishment of a Biobank is vital to the research and training capacity of AITHM. The facility supports the work of AITHM’s priority research areas, including across both infectious and chronic diseases, and facilitates new research within these areas, and with external research institutions.

Once fully operational, AITHM’s Biobank will provide greater opportunity for samples to be used for cross-disciplinary research between groups to address health issues in the Tropics. The biobank has been strategic in providing leverage for generating projects for AITHM research groups which will, in turn, increase the utility of the biobank and further capacity.

External engagement and partnerships have been pivotal to the development of the AITHM Biobank. A solid partnership with the TAAHC initiative enables the Biobank as an available in-kind resource for participating health and hospital service members. Active collaboration is also underway with the Sunshine Coast Hospital, to use the AITHM Biobank facility. Further, staff from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute working with communities are currently collecting samples on Palm Island for Indigenous health that will use AITHM facilities for processing, leading to further links with research institutes that work on Indigenous health issues.

To date, the Biobank project has completed the physical infrastructure to establish a cold storage biobank, and resources include physical and software programs. Ethical approval for Phase 1 of the ATIHM Biobank was obtained in February 2017, and recruitment of participants from the general community can now commence. This will include those already involved in AITHM projects, healthy controls and people belonging to specific groups which may be of future interest for AITHM research.

Approval also covers the possibility of rolling over current samples, held within individual research groups, into the Biobank.

Queensland Health sites require Site Specific Approvals (SSA) before recruitment can begin. The SSA application is underway for the Townsville Hospital and Health Services, with others to follow as required. Research agreements between participating institutions and JCU must also be completed.

Phase 2 of the AITHM Biobank, will specifically involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Extensive engagement with these communities has begun, with community support necessary before an application for approval of this phase. Critical work is underway with Townsville Hospital’s Indigenous Liaison unit and the National Centre for Indigenous Genomics (NCIG) to ensure individual and community consent is sought for research work, and to establish policies and procedures for the ethically acceptable collection, storage and use of biological material collected from Indigenous communities.