FAQs for Researchers


Health Precincts Biobank FAQs (for researchers)

What specimens does the Health Precincts Biobank collect?
The Health Precincts Biobank collects biological specimens from any patients who have given written consent and who are undergoing treatment at Prince of Wales hospitals (public and private), St George hospitals (public and private), The Royal Hospital for Women and The Sutherland Hospital. Formerly a cancer biobank, the bulk of the current collection of specimens are from cancer cases. Typically, formaldehyde-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) blocks and plasma from peripheral blood samples are stored, as well as fresh tissue (for RNA/DNA extraction) when possible. A high-level search of specimens currently held by the biobank can be done through the online catalogue.


What ethics approval is required to use specimens from the Health Precincts Biobanks?
As patients have already given their consent for their banked biospecimens and data to be used for research, only ethical approval for the researcher’s own project is required. All specimens and data distributed by the biobank are deidentified, therefore ethics approval to use these is usually low or negligible risk. However, all researchers should seek advice from their home institution Research Ethics office (or equivalent) to confirm their ethics approval is appropriate.


What data is available with the specimens?
Typically, basic demographic data, clinical data from hospital records (including diagnosis and treatment details), and outcome data, are available for biospecimens. Data from patients’ Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) can also be made available. All data is supplied in a deidentified format.


If the Health Precincts Biobank does not have the specimens I need, can they get hold of them for me?
Unfortunately, the Health Precincts Biobank cannot collect specimens for specific researchers or specific projects. In this case, Biospecimen Services would recommend that the researcher establish an investigator-led (biobank independent) collection, with which Biospecimen Services can provide support. Details about investigator-led collections can be found here.


What does the Health Precincts Biobank charge for their Specimens?
The Health Precincts Biobank operates on a cost-recovery basis. A quote is provided to all applicants before specimens are distributed. A guide to costs can be found here


I‘m a non-UNSW researcher can I still access specimens from the Health Precincts Biobank?
Yes, all researchers with HREC approval for their study can request specimens through the Health Precincts Biobank.


How can I get access to samples from the Health Precincts Biobank?
Search the catalogue here to estimate the availability of sample types for your study. The number and availability of samples will be confirmed by the Health Precincts Biobank team. Follow the steps below to submit an inquiry through the online form accessed via the specimen catalogue.

  • Step 1: Use the Filters on the left of the screen to see available specimens, the search will update as additional Filters are selected. To remove a Filter from your search, select the cross adjacent to the Filter name or uncheck the Filter term. Select your specimens of interest and add into a cart using the green + Add to Cart button on the top right of the screen.
  • Step 2: Click the blue Cart button to review your selection, you can continue searching or press the blue Submit Request button to proceed to the Request Confirmation page.
  • Step 3: Complete your details including information about the specimens you are interested in and click the blue Submit Request button. A member of the Health Precincts Biobank team will be in touch to discuss your request and take you through the full application process.
  • Step 4: Once we determine if we can meet your research needs you will need to submit a full application including your HREC approval and our Research Access Committee will then assess your request. We will also provide you with a quote.
  • Step 5: Prior to specimen and/or data distribution your institution will be required to sign a Material Transfer Agreement (external researchers) or an Internal User Agreement (UNSW researchers).


Biospecimen Services FAQs (for researchers)

What is a Collection Protocol?
A Collection Protocol is an investigator-led collection, managed with the assistance of UNSW Biospecimen Services; the term ‘Collection Protocol’ refers to the management of the collection within ‘OpenSpecimen’, the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) used by Biospecimen Services. A Collection Protocol is a standalone, often study-specific collection, independent of the Health Precincts Biobank.


Investigator-led studies 
Request for collection and processing of samples for research studies.


What's the difference between a Collection Protocol and accessing specimens through the Health Precincts Biobank?
A Collection Protocol is an ongoing accrual and storage of specimens, undertaken by a Primary Investigator (PI) in association with the Biospecimen Services. A Collection Protocol has defined specimen collection groups, time points and a predetermined specimen type and processing protocol.
A Health Precincts Biobank specimen request for stored, ‘ready to use’ biospecimens can be submitted to Biospecimen Services by any researcher with HREC approval for their study. This is a one-off request that is subject to approval by the biobank Research Access Committee.


What kind of ethics and governance approval do I need?
For investigator-led studies the Primary Investigator of any Collection Protocol is responsible for obtaining HREC and governance approval, for both the collection and the use of specimens prior to the commencement of specimen collection. Biospecimen Services can offer support and guidance for these HREC applications.


Who reviews my Collection Protocol requests?
Your Collection Protocol will be developed by the Biospecimens Services team to match your specimen requirements and conform to ethical constraints; as the PI, you will have final sign off on the Collection Protocol prior to specimen collection commencing. , A portion of your samples (2% of any given Collection Protocol) may be included in an internal Biospecimen Services audit; you will be notified prior to this and given the option to not participate. 


Can other researchers access my biospecimen collection? 
Biospecimen Services will not give out specimens from your collection without your approval. Any requests for specimens will be forwarded to you as the PI of the Collection Protocol for review and approval prior to potential specimen distribution. Any distribution of specimens to other parties must comply with the ethical approval under which the specimens were originally collected and have ethical approval for use. Biospecimen Services are able to work through this process with PIs and provide UNSW-approved template documents such as Material Transfer Agreements, for this purpose.


What does Biospecimen Services charge for its services?
Biospecimen Services works on a cost recovery basis to cover our costs for maintaining samples and services. Please email Biospecimen Services for more information: BiospecimenServices@unsw.edu.au.


How do I access my biospecimen data?  
Biospecimen data is stored on a secure database called OpenSpecimen. De-identified data for your samples can be accessed through the online portal. Once you commence your Collection Protocol with Biospecimen Services you will be provided with a login and training on the database.


OpenSpecimen FAQs

What does OpenSpecimen do?
OpenSpecimen is the database used by Biospecimen Services to manage their collections of samples, derivatives and aliquots. It is a secure platform for storing annotating data such as patient information linked to biospecimens, it manages biospecimen processing workflows and is a freezer management system.

How do I access OpenSpecimen?
The UNSW instance of OpenSpecimen is accessed through a web portal. You will be supplied with a login by Biospecimen Services when you commence a collection. Your login will only enable you to view/edit the collections you have ethical approval to view.

Where is the data in OpenSpecimen stored?
Data entered into OpenSpecimen, including Patient Health Information, is stored on secure UNSW servers which are managed by UNSW IT.

Can I add another staff member as a user to OpenSpecimen?
All user approvals need to be enabled by Biospecimen Services. New users who require access can request this through the sign up page 

Is there an on-line help feature users can access?
There is an on-line help feature available for the UNSW instance of OpenSpecimen. It is accessed through the Question mark in dark circle - Free shapes icons symbol visible on the blue bar to the top right of screen once you log into the system.

Who do I contact if I have a problem using OpenSpecimen?
If you have any questions about your access or use of OpenSpecimen please contact Biospecimen Services (BiospecimenServices@unsw.edu.au).