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Urgent simultaneous requests for COVID-19 and ovarian cancer specimens

October 21, 2020

If you’re a client or regular reader, you know we’re committed to advancing the precision medicine revolution – the use of massive amounts of patient data to extract new insights about individuals, treatments and prognosis. Importantly, patient data always starts with the patient’s biofluids, cells or tissue. We’ve been busy on many exciting specimen-related projects, two we’ll highlight here.



Delivering tissue blocks and associated CT scans for ovarian cancer testing

The first project is helping a U.S. precision medicine organization refine its diagnostic tools for ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is the deadliest cancer among women and fifth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women. A reason it’s often fatal is that symptoms appear late in the disease’s development. A test that could detect the disease – or a genetic predisposition to the disease – before symptoms arise could save lives.

In search of such a test, our client is performing next-generation genetic sequencing to amass data on hundreds of ovarian cancer patients. We’re in the process of providing the company – which is associated with one of the nation’s most prominent hospitals – with 300 de-identified ovarian tumor tissue blocks. All are paired with normal adjacent tissue, and about one-third are even linked with CT scans of the tumor. The scans, which are extremely challenging for researchers to obtain, have been released with the consent of the patients, whose identities remain anonymous.

With the specimens and data we provide, the client will be able to sequence patients’ tumor genomes, compare them with the patient’s CT scans, and bring in other data about the patient to strengthen the company’s suite of diagnostic tools.

Specimen sets from COVID-19 patients for development of rapid saliva test

The second project on which we’re supporting this same client involves fighting COVID-19. While the pandemic constitutes a business and humanitarian opportunity no company ever wanted, it is inspiring to see those who are successfully pivoting to the fight. Our client is one successful example, having already created a COVID-19 viral (PCR) test using patients’ nasopharyngeal swabs. Now the company is working to develop a rapid-turnaround saliva test to help fill the testing-and-tracing gap that has frustrated public health experts from the beginning of the outbreak.

To support this work, we’ve tapped our vast network of suppliers and are in the process of delivering a large number of  sets of samples, from patients who have tested positive for the disease as well as from patients who have tested negative. Each set includes nasal swabs and vials of saliva. The client has requested another batch of these samples from patients who are hospitalized for COVID-19. Their information will help the client develop stronger information on patients who get seriously ill from the infection.

Finding solutions for biospecimen requests in spite of challenges

Both of these projects pose a range of novel challenges for a specimen provider. To be useful, the COVID samples need to get to researchers within a two-week window. Also challenging is the client’s request for multiple saliva samples from each test subject, including patients in the most difficult circumstances. We’re embracing these challenges and expediting the delivery.

For the ovarian cancer project, it’s rare for researchers to have access to CT scans linked to tumor tissue and patient records. As a result, we created a new process, involving in-depth planning and negotiation with health care providers, to procure and deliver exactly what the client needed.

“From the CT scans to the follow-up sampling of the COVID-19 patients, these are complex tasks and ones that we relish,” said Eric Langlois, iSpecimen VP of sales. “If it’s humanly possible, iSpecimen has the network, expertise and drive to get the right specimens and data into the hands of our clients who need them.”

Learn about the iSpecimen Marketplace where you can browse millions of richly annotated, de-identified human tissue and biofluid biospecimens, in addition to hematopoietic and immune cell products and COVID-19 samples. You can join for free and creating a login is easy. Request a quote or custom collection today.