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Researcher's ambition creates organ bank at UH


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POSTED: Saturday, March 21, 2009

When Dr. Abby Collier joined the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine in January 2006, she asked how to contact the school's organ bank.

She said no one knew what she was talking about.

A pharmacologist interested in drug development, the New Zealand researcher said she had never been at a medical school without a bank storing donated organs and tissue for research that are not suitable for transplant.

UH researchers were buying tissue from two mainland facilities, a time-consuming and costly process, Collier said. They could get it free from the National Disease Research Interchange but still had to pay high shipping fees, she said.

“;If someone wanted 10 liver samples, they might get 10 shipments, each costing $200 to $300,”; she said, holding up a tiny tube of liver protein from one of two freezers in her lab. “;I can get 1,000 of these out of one liver.”;

Collier decided to do something about the situation, both to facilitate her research on new drugs for children and pregnant women and for other UH researchers.

She contacted the Organ Donor Center of Hawaii about starting an organ bank at UH. Then-Executive Director Darryl Ing thought it was “;a great idea,”; she said.

His successor, Stephen Kula, also is an enthusiastic supporter. He said the donor center is required to provide kidneys, livers and hearts for research that cannot be used for transplantation because of damage or lack of a match.

The center was sending them to the same two mainland companies UH researchers were buying them from, he said. The donor family's consent is needed whether they are used for transplantation or research, Kula noted.

The center's organ coordinators call Collier when they have a donation for research, and they harvest and package the tissue. Collier picks it up regardless of the time, day or night.

Jon-Paul Bingham, assistant professor of molecular biosciences and bioengineering, said Collier's organ bank is “;a unique resource”; because it is providing tissue from a diverse population that normally would not be accessible.

“;One thing we're interested in is the issue of clinical drugs and how they affect minorities,”; he said. Having access to specimens from Hawaii donors provides an opportunity to see how clinical drugs affect the islands' different ethnic groups, he said.

“;The sad thing is if it (the organ bank) wasn't here and if it wasn't for Abby, it would be cutting off a lot of research”; that “;has wide impact and implications nationally and internationally,”; Bingham said.

Collier received a $50,000 grant from UH to set up the lab, and the Organ Donor Center is covering the cost of harvesting and packaging organs for the medical school.

Kula said it costs the donor center about $10,000 a year, but the board of directors and staff “;are committed to doing it because it saves money and time for researchers here.”;

Collier's “;top priority”; in coming months is to seek a grant to cover costs of her lab and the Organ Donor Center's expenses in providing tissue for the medical school. For now she is bearing the laboratory costs and is not charging researchers for tissue.