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Cancer biobank | IHCC, Poland | TwinGuard ULT Freezers

Inside the world’s largest hereditary cancer biobank


The International Hereditary Cancer Center (IHCC) in Poland is the world’s largest hereditary cancer biobank. It comprises of data from more than one million people (patients and their family members) and DNA samples from 120,000 individuals Professor Jan Lubinski, Head of the IHCC, explains the critical work of the Center and the role of PHCbi’s TwinGuard ultra low temperature (ULT) freezers with Dual Cooling technology, in supporting it.

The early detection of cancer and its subsequent prevention are becoming an increasingly important goal in public healthcare worldwide. Many forms of cancer have genetically inherited origins. Scientists have discovered a number of genetic mutations that can contribute to an individual’s risk of developing certain cancers, such as breast, ovarian, colorectal, and prostate cancers, as well as some other, less common cancer types. Although, people who carry such hereditary mutations do not necessarily get cancer, their risk of developing the disease at some point during their lifetime is higher than average. Genetic research can identify individuals with a predisposition to these cancers, enabling preventative treatment and increased survival rates. In addition, this approach to cancer is also more cost-effective than later-stage treatment.

World class research

The IHCC is a global leader in the field of hereditary cancer. Affiliated to the Department of Genetics and Pathology at the Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin, Poland, it was established almost 25 years ago by Professor Lubinski in the early days of genetic research into hereditary cancer. It has evolved into a major specialist centre of excellence that contributes to advancing global knowledge on this important area of medicine. Its significance is in part due to the suitability of Poland’s demographics as a patient study cohort.

“Cancer-related genetic research seeks to identify patterns that indicate abnormal mutations. In order to facilitate this, it is important to develop large databases and registries of homogenous populations,” said Professor Lubinski. “Poland has a very homogenous population - while immigration from the country is significant, the number of non-native people entering the land is limited. Therefore, it is an excellent place for the study of genetics within populations.”

A pioneer in advanced research into heredity cancer

Professor Lubinski, Head of the IHCC and the Department of Genetics and Pathology at the Pomeranian Medical University, is the driving force behind the development of the facility. As one of the world’s leading experts in hereditary cancer, Professor Lubinski, has studied and worked as a geneticist specialized in oncology in many countries, including Poland, France, Latvia and the USA. He is a leading figure in both European Union and global initiatives on hereditary cancer. Over the course of the last 10 years, his studies have led to publication of more than 300 scientific papers focused on hereditary cancer in leading international medical journals. Affiliated to many professional societies worldwide, he has also served as a Board or Council Member of several of them. He has received many national and international awards for achievements in science, education and organizational activities. He also regularly presents at specialist meetings and conferences across the world and is editor for a number of leading global publications on hereditary cancer. As a true pioneer, Professor Lubinski also founded his own company – Read Gene - in 2005 that is specialized in developing new diagnostic innovations in cancer-related genetic analysis and oncology tools. He has co-authored 12 successful international patent applications and 22 successful Polish patent applications for new tests and techniques in genetic research.

Significant progress

As it has grown, the IHCC has stimulated the development of hereditary cancer research projects within Poland and internationally. Under the guidance of the IHCC, a network of 22 hereditary cancer centres have been created across the country, and a Government-supported, national programme of diagnostics and management in Polish families with genetic predisposition to cancers has been introduced. The IHCC has organized population screening for hereditary cancers across the entire population of 1.5 million people of the West-Pomeranian region in Poland with the collaboration of local healthcare providers. This type of ‘entire population screening’ for all types of hereditary cancer is a world-first.

The Center has also stimulated the development of an active international research network. It has coordinated two cancer registry projects funded by the European Commission and has established a globally unique registry of cancer family syndromes including:

  • Almost 500,000 DNA samples from cancer patients or their relatives.
  • More than 5,000 diagnosed and registered people carrying the BRCA1 (breast cancer) genetic mutation– the largest number in the world.
  • Almost 7,000 cell lines from BRCA1 mutation carriers.
  • More than 200,000 registered families with other cancer family syndromes or strong aggregation of malignancies with biological samples available from at least one affected relative.
  • Family data from 1,258,000 people collected during realisation of the world’s first global project for the prevention of inherited cancer.

IHCC research has also led to significant discoveries in the early detection of some of the most common forms of cancer, such as breast cancer (BRCA1 and BRCA2) and colon cancer (HNPCC), which have been published internationally.

Equipped for large scale specialist research

As a key global resource in the fight against cancer, guaranteed sample security and optimal efficiency are the top priorities in ensuring viability of the vast biobank. The large number of samples involved the IHCC’s research must be collected carefully and correctly and preserved under precise conditions until research is complete. “With around 200 patient-consults every day, the IHCC needs the most efficient and reliable techniques and equipment possible for collection and storage of an exceptionally large number of samples of biological materials,” said Professor Lubinski. Additional funding that was secured from EU resources nearly a decade ago enabled the IHCC to extend its activities further. With this opportunity, it invested in expanding its laboratory facilities significantly. Professor Lubinski and his team opted for PHCbi equipment.

“We were looking for the right equipment and contacted Sanlab, PHC’s official distributor in Poland,” said Professor Lubinski. “PHCbi products offer perfect biosample storage. We chose PHCbi equipment on the basis of the outstanding reliability, precision, quality and efficiency, as well as the excellent value of the PHCbi TwinGuard -86C freezers, and we haven’t been disappointed. We now also have other equipment from PHCbi, including the -150°C cryogenic freezers. I have only heard positive comments from my team on the products.” The IHCC is now one of Sanlab’s largest customers. They have continued to invest in new equipment from PHCbi as the Center has expanded.

Emerging biotechnology landscape

PHCbi products have quickly established a strong and positive reputation within the growing biotechnology industry in Poland. “Poland’s biotechnology industry is thriving with new opportunities as an EU Member State,” said Jacek Kaczorek, founder and owner of Sanlab, who supply PHCbi products in Poland. “As a result, we see significant expansion and investments in research facilities, universities and institutes, such as the IHCC, and also in commercial companies involved in the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries.”

Sanlab has also grown to meet the increasing demand for PHCbi products, since it was established by Jacek in 2003. It now has a team of 12 highly qualified staff, who offer sales, logistics and technical services from the company’s Warsaw headquarters. “PHC Europe B.V. is a very professional company offering high quality products that can meet the needs of a wide range of customers within Poland’s emerging biotechnology market,” remarked Jacek. “We have experienced great success with the PHCbi TwinGuard ULT freezers and have received excellent feedback from our customers on the dual cooling capabilities and reliability of the product in particular.”

Future expansion plans

The IHCC plans further expansion with new international studies in hereditary cancer scheduled. “We have very ambitious plans for the future,” said Professor Lubinski. “Global hereditary genetics is a dynamic and evolving field that we hope to contribute much more to in the coming years. It has been a pleasure to work with PHCbi and Sanlab so far, and we hope this collaboration will serve us as well, long into the future.”


Research papers published by Professor Lubinski and his team at the IHCC in the last five years:

  • Cybulski C, et al, Lubiński J, Foulkes WD, Narod SA, Akbari MR. Germline RECQL mutations are associated with breast cancer susceptibility. Nat Genet. 2015 Jun; 47(6): 643-6. (IF – 29,352).
  • Cybulski C, et al, Lubiński J; Polish Hereditary Breast Cancer Consortium. Clinical outcomes in women with breast cancer and a PALB2 mutation: a prospective cohort analysis. Lancet Oncol. 2015 Jun; 16(6):638-44. (IF – 24.690)
  • Huzarski T, et al, Lubinski J, Narod SA. Ten-year survival in patients with BRCA1-negative and BRCA1-positive breast cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2013 Sep 10;31(26):3191-6. (IF – 18,443).
  • Jaworska K, et al, Lubiński J, et al: A Low Selenium Level Is Associated with Lung and Laryngeal Cancers. Plos One. March 2013 vol. 8 (3) e59051, (IF – 4.537)
  • Lener MR, et al, Lubiński J. Can selenium levels act as a marker of colorectal cancer risk? BMC Cancer. 2013 Apr 29;13:214. (IF – 3,623).
  • Eeles RA, et al, Lubiński J, et al: Identification of 23 new prostate cancer susceptibility loci using the iCOGS custom genotyping array. Nature Genetics. Apr 2013 (4); 385-391 (IF – 33.096)
  • Michailidou K, et al., Lubiński J, et al: Large-scale genotyping identifies 41 new loci associated with breast cancer risk. Nature Genetics. April 2013 volume 45 number 4; 353-361 (IF – 33.096)
  • Pharoah PDP, et al Lubiński J, et al: GWAS meta-analysis and replication identifies three new susceptibility loci for ovarian cancer. Nature Genetics. April 2013 volume 45 number 4; 362-370, (IF – 33.096)
  • Cybulski C, et al, Lubiński J and the Polish Hereditary Prostate Cancer Consortium: An inherited NBN mutation is associated with poor prognosis of prostate cancer. Brit J Cancer. Epub 13 Nov 2012. (IF – 5.042)
  • Lubiński J et al, The risk of breast cancer in women with a BRCA1 mutation from North America and Poland, Int. J. Cancer 2012 Jul 1; 131(1): 229-234. (IF – 5.444)
  • Cybulski C, et al, Lubiński J. Risk of breast cancer in women with a CHEK2 mutation with and without a family history of breast cancer J Clin. Oncol. 2011 Oct 1; 29(28): 3747-52. Epub 2011 Aug 29. (IF – 18.970)
  • Cybulski C, et al, Lubiński J. Risk of breast cancer in women with a CHEK2 mutation with and without a family history of breast cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2011 Oct 1; 29(28):3747-52. (IF – 18,443.

TwinGuard ULT Freezers

Ultimate security is critical for extremely valuable samples, such as those in biobanks, like the IHCC. Freezer failure requires swift, effective action to transfer precious samples to a safe, ultra-low temperature environment – often within a matter of hours, even if a failure occurs at night. Any failure, therefore, significantly increases the risk of losing a unique, irreplaceable or potentially life-saving collection of samples. This could halt promising research, delay medical treatments or simply cause substantial financial losses, as well as create an administrative nightmare. PHCbi developed Dual Cooling technology specifically to greatly reduce this risk.

Our advanced TwinGuard ULT freezers provide an unparalleled level of safety and added peace of mind through the use of two independent refrigeration systems that reliably maintain an ultra-low temperature environment, even if an unexpected failure should occur in one cooling circuit.

PHCbi started developing Dual Cooling technology over a decade ago. The world’s first TwinGuard freezer – PHCbi's MDF-U500VX – was launched in 2010 in Europe Following its success, the larger volume MDF-U700VX VIP TwinGuard -86ºC Freezer was first introduced in 2011.

Since then, customers with samples that are valuable, irreplaceable, or potentially life-saving, such as those stored at the IHCC, have benefitted from the added assurance, capacity and advanced features of TwinGuard freezers. Following the popularity of the advanced Dual Cooling System and the benefits it offers, this PHCbi designed technology has now been introduced to two new chest freezers - the MDF-DC500VX and MDF-DC700VX. These latest additions to the TwinGuard range offers exceptional temperature stability and uniformity with some new additional features like a full colour LCD touch screen and a USB port for data logging.

Unparalleled performance

Dual Cooling technology differs significantly from conventional cascade refrigeration technology in fundamental design and operation. In Dual Cool systems, two independent refrigeration systems provide a reliable -86ºC ultra-low temperature environment. Should an unexpected failure occur in one cooling circuit, the other can maintain the freezer in the -70ºC range until service can be arranged. This level of ultra-low temperature back-up cannot be achieved by conventional cascade systems. The unique functionality of Dual Cooling is achieved through the use of two, completely independent, auto-cascade systems– the compressors, evaporators and cooling fans of the two systems operate separately from each other. Two efficient evaporator circuits surround the interior chamber in a strategically-designed arrangement to ensure the highest levels of temperature uniformity with either one or both of the refrigeration systems functioning.

Expanding the TwinGuard range

Following the popularity of the advanced Dual Cooling System and the benefits it offers, this PHCbi designed technology has now been introduced to two new chest freezers - the MDF-DC500VX and MDF-DC700VX. These latest additions to the TwinGuard range offers exceptional temperature stability and uniformity with some new additional features like a full colour LCD touch screen and a USB port for data logging.

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