Ice Slice Baby; Exploring the Use of Ice Embedding for Frozen Sectioning in Biobanking

By Paola Foulkes, Wales Cancer Biobank

In October I had the opportunity to present a poster at the ISBER regional symposium hosted by the Biobanco del Sistema Sanitario Público de Andalucía in Granada Spain. The theme of this year’s meeting was focused on biospecimen science, research, and innovation. Over the two days I attended a series talks around the themes of human, environmental and microbial biospecimen science. There were also abstract presentations on a variety of engaging topics from seed biobanking to the first aerospace biobank, collecting samples from the SpaceX Inspiration4 Mission. I also took part in a round table about the preanalytical factors that impacts downstream genomics analysis of tissue samples. This was one of the highlights of the conference as I had the opportunity to learn from others in the field how different biobanks manage pre analytical variables, as well as contribute about the processes at WCB. Over the course of the conference, I met delegates from all over the world including Luxembourg, Kenya and Japan. There was also the opportunity to interact with companies exhibiting their latest biobanking equipment and technologies. Another highlight of the conference was the tour of the biobank at the end, along with winning the interactive quiz based on the conference talks.


Paola ISBER poster

Using blood samples to identify patients at risk of prostate cancer - Dr Jason Webber

Using extracellular vesicles, in patient blood, to identify patients at risk of prostate cancer progression & metastatic disease

Dr Jason Webber (Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine Health & Life Sciences, Swansea University)

Prostate cancer (PCa) is a serious health concern, impacting over 50,000 patients and claiming more than 11,000 lives annually within the UK. Despite the prevalence of the disease, current diagnostic methods, such as the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, lack both sensitivity and specificity. While multi-parametric magnetic resonance imaging (mp-MRI) represents a major advancement in non-invasive diagnosis of disease, discrimination between patients with aggressive or non-aggressive, slow growing tumours, remains a challenge. In many cases accurate diagnosis requires biopsy which is an invasive procedure with many potential risks. Our research is therefore focussed on the development of novel biomarkers that can be used, in conjunction with current clinical practices, for non-invasive and early detection of patients with aggressive PCa.

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) have emerged as promising sauce of biomarkers for cancer diagnosis. These small, yet highly complex, packages contain vast amounts of information about their originating cells. Importantly, we have already demonstrated that EVs from prostate cancers are detectable within patient blood and can predict the outcome of biopsy (Shephard A et al, 2021). We are extremely fortunate to work with the Wales Cancer Biobank, who have supported this research through the provision of serum samples and associated clinical data required to accurately assess our biomarkers candidates.

Looking to the future, we have multiple ongoing research projects supported by funders such as Cancer Research Wales and Prostate Cancer UK to further develop our EV-based biomarkers to enable identification of patients who are at risk of PCa progression and metastatic disease. To achieve this goal, we are taking a multi-facetted approach to explore the RNA and glycan (sugar) cargoes contained within EVs. We are combining novel laboratory techniques with cutting-edge analytical approaches, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, to combine multiple biomarkers. This has resulted in collaboration with some of the leading PCa research labs throughout the UK and beyond.

Identified biomarker candidates will be tested using samples from the Wales Cancer Biobank. Data generated will form an extremely valuable resource for future biomarker discoveries, supporting the development of novel biomarkers for identification of patients at risk from aggressive PCa as well as future studies likely to arise from this work.

Using Wales Cancer Biobank to Support my Research - Dr Stephanie Burnell

"I have worked with Wales Cancer Biobank for a few years now and have always found them encouraging and supportive. Initially, I applied for access to samples using the ASTRA2 application process to accompany my research where I look at the role of the immune system in colorectal cancer.

The tissue I collect is processed in the lab and developed into organoids, also known as “3D mini-guts”.  These organoids are important for drug development and exploring how the immune system might

recognise and kill cancer cells, but not healthy cells. We are then able to show that the immune cells are targeting the cancer cells through specialised imaging.

This application was straightforward and the communication with the team was exceptional – always working with us to help us make the most of the samples we had applied for. Following on from the ASTRA application, I have since worked closely with WCB and collaborated on consenting the same patients – everyone has always been so patient and kind and always willing to help.

Finally, I have now started a 1-day a week position within the WCB to continue consenting patients with them and assist with lab-based experiments."