Connecting researchers to the specimens they need for medical research


Medical researchers have historically experienced challenges finding biological specimens — blood, other bio fluids, tissue and cells — for their research, despite the fact that the amount of research material is plentiful.

There are over 800 million health care encounters a year in the U.S. in which patients are willing to donate their specimens to research. The challenge for researchers is in the manual process of managing contracts, compliance regulations and the overall process of finding, ordering and shipping the right specimens to those who need them. This tedious and time-consuming process draws attention away from the actual research at hand and from teaching the next generation of researchers.

Multiple studies have shown that most patients are willing to allow their discarded bio specimens to be used for research, according to the "Report of the Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R) Human Tissue/Specimen Banking Working Group" (March 2007)Patients must sign off on their specimens being included in research projects, and specimens must be de-identified. Despite this, over 1-billion specimens are discarded each year in the U.S., contributing to the overall cost of health care and increasing our waste.

Technology can bridge the gap between health care encounters that produce bio specimens and the medical researchers that need them. Employing technology in this process saves time and resources. It increases the quality of specimens available to researchers and eliminates human errors that occur when manually acquiring specimen information.

A national “Amazon-like” marketplace exists and streamlines the searching, ordering and shipping of specimens. Researchers can filter and sort available specimens based on standard criteria: patient demographics, diagnoses, health history and/or specimen characteristics like quantity, age, collection site and more.

This resource, called the iSpecimen Marketplace, is fully compliant with specimen and research requirements and is available to Michigan health care organizations through our health information exchange, Great Lakes Health Connect, or GLHC. Hospitals, commercial labs, biorepositories, clinical trial sites and blood centers in Michigan can contribute their specimens to the marketplace through the health information exchange.

Biological samples exchanged through the iSpecimen Marketplace are making a difference in many areas of medical research and discovery — from cancer and tumor therapies, to pregnancy tests, to validating the accuracy and precision of blood tests.

A West Michigan health care organization, North Ottawa Community Hospital, or NOCH, is the first organization in Michigan to pilot bridging the gap between specimen collection and medical research. NOCH is located in Grand Haven and offers variety of inpatient, outpatient and support service to all communities in northwest Ottawa County and adjacent communities in southern Muskegon County.

Contributing to the iSpecimen Marketplace advances medical discovery and offers organizations a sustainable and new revenue source. This compensation reduces overall operating costs, while supporting the discovery of new diagnostics and treatments beyond the walls of their institution.

As more health care organizations begin contributing to the marketplace, specimens from Michigan will be part of medical discoveries that influence patients worldwide.

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