Recently, the BioSpecimen Sciences team successfully launched “caTissue” a new, sophisticated piece of software used to track and monitor all patient specimens for research (tissues, blood samples, body fluids, and all of their molecular derivatives such as DNA, RNA, proteins, sequencing libraries, etc.). To learn more about caTissue, we sat down with three members of team to explain the value of caTissue and how it will help researchers across UHN with their studies. Read our interview with clinical research coordinators Amen Alam, Asaara Ali, and Nadia Amin to learn more about caTissue and the BioSpecimen Sciences Program at UHN.
What is caTissue?
Asaara Ali: CaTissue is a new online database that we have begun use to track a patient’s research specimen in our UHN research biorepository.
Nadia Amin: We use the database to assist us in how we organize the collection, all aspects around tracking the specimens in terms of storage and distribution for all the various research projects.
Ali: Previously we managed several different “ad hoc” mini databases. But, as you can imagine, as we grew and became more complex, it became more difficult to manage all our specimens across several different databases. In addition, the really cool thing is that new system is now real-time “federated” (i.e., electronically linked) to a growing number both clinical and research databases throughout UHN (such as, for example, co-Path, the pathology LIS, CAISIS, a clinical database at UHN, and PMCC cardiac center databases).
What was insufficient with what you had?
Amen Alam: Previously there was just so much more manual work, time and effort involved in assembling all these different pieces for researchers. We would have to go into EPR, then go into co-Path, all manually, in order to gather the information. The data was living in multiple homes with no connection.
Ali: And we were not able to see the interconnections. Now, the caTissue imports additional data from EPR and coPath, which allows for a much more robust collection of information for every single piece of tissue. The speed at which we’re doing our work has jumped dramatically, and so has our ability to dig deeper into research data.
Amin: Plus, it’s a web-based database, accessible from anywhere, so we don’t need to be sitting right in front of an excel spreadsheet that is saved to a specific computer.
How did you prepare for the new system?
Amin: One of the first things our group discussed what would be needed from this kind of system and how the database should be organized. For example, what would we need to know about our blood samples? Our tissue samples? What things might our researchers request? We really wanted to map out what we needed and plan before we went ahead.
Ali: We also did a lot of research around how to transfer old data (“legacy data”) into caTissue. Even though all our information was living on different databases, it was still all very valuable and we didn’t want to lose it. We’re literally talking about tens of thousands of datasets since 2001! Once caTissue went live, we worked for a very long time on ensuring all the information was accurate. We double checked all the data, validated it and did an in-depth audit across the entire database to ensure that all of the information was complete, we didn’t lose anything in the transfer and that it was all readable, accessible and complete.
Alam: We also had an opportunity to modify caTissue functionality to make sure it met all our needs. The layout of the database is flexible, so we made some changes based on the previous demands of our work. Some of our custom modifications have never been done before -such as the live feed with co-Path!
How will it help UHN researchers who use biospecimens for research?
Ali: The simple thing is, caTissue allows us to link pathology data and research data with patient consent to research all in one place. Now you can look up tumour samples with specific diagnoses, between dates X and Y, and get the answer you need immediately. We are also able to use a newly developed search engine frontend (based on SAP) within the system to draw the data and get all the specific information, right down to the different pathology markers.
Alam: We also tailored it for research consent tracking, in order to track the different levels of patient consent for each specimen. We were even able to add information on when a patient’s consent status changes. We also worked on making sure we could include all the necessary information around where a sample has been. Details such as where they’ve been sent before, for what projects and of course, who has them now.
Alam: We’re still in transition period, familiarizing ourselves with new system’s tremendous functionality, as well as the various components relating to system distribution and consent tracking. In addition, we’re working hard on developing additional live database connections to clinical outcomes databases throughout UHN.
Amin: We will always be looking for new ways to improve and ensure we have as robust a database as possible. We want to be able to comprehensively collect and manage all the information we need to boost biospecimen research at UHN. It is our world-class patient-centered research at UHN that drives the next level of personalized clinical care, something that truly sets us apart as a leading medical center of the future.
Ali: We know we work at the beginning of that long process, but we take pride in making sure our piece of that puzzle is a key to success.