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Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2010 Apr;19(4):916-22. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-10-0066. Epub 2010 Mar 23.

Establishment and operation of a biorepository for molecular epidemiologic studies in Costa Rica.

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Proyecto Epidemiológico Guanacaste, Fundación INCIENSA, Torre La Sabana, 7mo piso, Sabana Norte, San José, Costa Rica.



The Proyecto Epidemiológico Guanacaste (PEG) has conducted several large studies related to human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer in Guanacaste, Costa Rica in a long-standing collaboration with the U.S. National Cancer Institute. To improve molecular epidemiology efforts and save costs, we have gradually transferred technology to Costa Rica, culminating in state-of-the-art laboratories and a biorepository to support a phase III clinical trial investigating the efficacy of HPV 16/18 vaccine.


Here, we describe the rationale and lessons learned in transferring molecular epidemiologic and biorepository technology to a developing country.


At the outset of the PEG in the early 1990s, we shipped all specimens to repositories and laboratories in the United States, which created multiple problems. Since then, by intensive personal interactions between experts from the United States and Costa Rica, we have successfully transferred liquid-based cytology, HPV DNA testing and serology, chlamydia and gonorrhea testing, PCR-safe tissue processing, and viable cryopreservation. To accommodate the vaccine trial, a state-of-the-art repository opened in mid-2004. Approximately 15,000 to 50,000 samples are housed in the repository on any given day, and >500,000 specimens have been shipped, many using a custom-made dry shipper that permits exporting >20,000 specimens at a time. Quality control of shipments received by the NCI biorepository has revealed an error rate of <0.2%. Recently, the PEG repository has incorporated other activities; for example, large-scale aliquotting and long-term, cost-efficient storage of frozen specimens returned from the United States. Using Internet-based specimen tracking software has proven to be efficient even across borders.


For long-standing collaborations, it makes sense to transfer the molecular epidemiology expertise toward the source of specimens. The successes of the PEG molecular epidemiology laboratories and biorepository prove that the physical and informatics infrastructures of a modern biorepository can be transferred to a resource-limited and weather-challenged region. Technology transfer is an important and feasible goal of international collaborations.

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