Published February 24, 2016
Andrew H. Talal, MD — professor of medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition — has established a liver biorepository at the University at Buffalo’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute.
“Our biobank is stimulating collaborations between clinicians and researchers, bolstering training, promoting multidisciplinary integration and advancing translational medicine to improve the health of Western New York,” says Talal.
The biorepository was established with a $850,000 three-year grant from the Troup Fund of the Kaleida Health Foundation.
The biorepository is the region’s resource for clinically annotated human samples that can be used in clinical and translational research.
“With the biobank, we have the opportunity to conduct research that could lead to significant advances in patient care,” Talal says. “It will contribute to the establishment of UB and Western New York as world-class centers for research, education and the treatment of liver cancer and other liver diseases.”
The biorepository is especially important because the prevalence of cirrhosis in Erie County is twice the average seen in New York State, he notes.
“We have samples that represent the majority of the patients we see here in Buffalo, and our goal is to obtain samples of some of the rarer diseases we encounter in our clinics,” explains Talal.
Samples for the biorepository are collected from Erie County Medical Center and Buffalo General Medical Center, two training sites for the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Clinics at the two sites were developed into liver centers by Talal and Anthony D. Martinez, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine.
“Having a biorepository at UB is important for training because it provides young investigators with research opportunities they wouldn’t necessarily have at other institutions,” says Talal.
Trainees on the research track of UB’s gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition fellowship program have already started using the biorepository to conduct research.
Third-year fellow Alia Hasham, MD, is using samples from the biorepository to investigate why some patients with fatty liver disease develop end stage liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer while others do not.
“The biobank is actually contributing to the development of Dr. Hasham’s career. Her work has the potential to make a major impact in deciding which people might need to be treated for fatty liver disease,” Talal emphasizes.
The value of the biobank extends beyond the samples contained within it, says Talal. He notes second-year fellow Sandeep Samuel, MD, has conducted a study to assess primary care physicians’ attitudes toward screening for hepatitis C.
“Because of the biobank, we’ll be able to expand on Dr. Samuel’s work; we’ll have the ability to search clinical and specimen data in a more robust way,” says Talal. “Indeed, Dr. Hasham has already started collecting physician survey data on attitudes toward screening for fatty liver disease and on knowledge of recent therapeutic advances in hepatitis C.”
“We are developing powerful infrastructures for clinical information that are instrumental in analyzing these data, which will be used to develop interventions to increase the identification of cases of hepatitis C and other liver diseases.”
Samuel’s abstract has been accepted for presentation at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of the Liver. His work will ultimately support sample acquisition from patients evaluated in community settings.
“We have developed — and are continuing to develop — valuable relationships with general and bariatric surgeons for sample collection,” says Talal, who also directs UBMD Internal Medicine’s Center for Clinical Care and Research in Liver Disease.
“Efforts are underway to develop collaborations with endocrinologists as patients with diabetes and insulin resistance have a high prevalence of fatty liver disease.”
Talal and his colleagues and trainees are also working with members of the Department of Biostatistics in the School of Public Health and Health Professions. Marianthi Markatou, PhD, associate chair of research and healthcare informatics, and Yang Chen, a biostatistics doctoral student supported by the Troup Fund award, are collaborating on study design and data analysis.
The biorepository is currently being used by faculty and trainees in the UB Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, and Talal’s goal is to eventually make it accessible to researchers across the school of medicine and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Although the biorepository now contains samples derived from patients with chronic liver disease, Talal envisions expansion: Ultimately, he plans to collect samples from every organ system in the body.
When Talal came to UB in 2012, he had already established and directed a biorepository at Weill Cornell Medical College, which currently holds samples from nearly 8,000 patients and has data on over 35,000.
“Based upon firsthand experience from the biobank we established at Weill in 2000, I know that once the infrastructure is developed and collaborative research relationships are established, obtaining samples from many different types of patients is not difficult,” he says.