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Officials of the Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg (IBBL) today announced the selection of Dr. Robert Hewitt, president of an international association governing biological samples, as Chief Executive Officer.

As head of the IBBL, Hewitt will be in charge of a state-of-the-art tissue storage and distribution initiative that will help a worldwide network of cancer scientists and other disease researchers find answers to humanity's most pressing health problems.

Dr. Jean-Claude Schmit, chairman of the seven-member governing board of the IBBL, said Hewitt was selected as CEO because of his impeccable credentials, his worldwide connections and his experience in setting up biobanks in other nations.

"Dr. Hewitt is internationally recognized as a leading scientist in biobanking," Schmit said, following the IBBL's recent board meeting at the Phoenix, Arizona, USA headquarters of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen). TGen is partnering with Luxembourg to help develop the IBBL, and TGen is part of the first demonstration project, Luxembourg Project Lung Cancer, in collaboration with the Partnership for Personalized Medicine.

Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen's President and Scientific Director, said Hewitt was the obvious choice for the new position. "Dr. Hewitt brings energy and creativity to the IBBL. His reputation within the biobanking community is a strength that will help ensure the IBBL's success through his leadership and his ability to foster collaborations on an international scale."

The IBBL is key to a multi-part strategy to make Luxembourg the center of excellence in health sciences and technologies of Europe.

"This is a project that puts us on the global map," said Schmit, who also is General Manager of Luxembourg's Public Research Centre for Health (Centre de Recherche Public Sante). "The IBBL will allow us to have state-of-the-art samples for research. It is opening our country to international research. For TGen, it's an opportunity to enter the European research market."

Patrizia Luchetta, the IBBL Project Manager and IBBL Board Vice-Chairman, also praised Hewitt's dedication and experience.

"Dr. Hewitt stands out for his appreciation of the role of biobanks in biomedical research, and his deep understanding of what it takes to set up a state-of-the-art biobanking facility," said Luchetta, who also serves as Deputy Director of Luxembourg's Board of Economic Development in the Ministry of the Economy and Foreign Trade.

Dr. Hewitt is president of the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories. The ISBER aims to promote best practices in the management of biobanks, which store such items as therapeutic tissues, microbial culture collections, biodiversity samples and even museum collections.

"The IBBL is really vital to the development of personalized medicine," said Hewitt, referring to the process of quickly bringing new laboratory discoveries to the diagnosis and treatment of patients.

As part of an international partnership to spur discovery and innovation, Luxembourg last year enlisted the Phoenix-based Partnership for Personalized Medicine, which includes: TGen; Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute; and Seattle, Washington's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. A strategic partnership between Seattle's Institute of Systems Biology and the University of Luxembourg constitutes the third pillar of Luxembourg's overall initiative in life sciences.

Hewitt has developed biobanks in England, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, where he is director of the Tissue Repository & Hospital-based Cancer Registry at the National University Hospital and National University of Singapore. The Tissue Repository provides researchers with samples of blood and tumor tissues collected only with patient consent.

"What I set up in Singapore is like a small scale model of what will be set up for Luxembourg," said Hewitt, who was educated in England and served a fellowship in the Laboratory of Pathology at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. "The wonderful thing with the Luxembourg plan is that everything is funded."

Hewitt starts his new position on July 1. He eventually will supervise a staff of nearly 70 at the IBBL, which will include a biorepository, biorefinery, offices of administration and compliance, a technology center and an information-management center for maintaining and developing databases.

"One thing I've learned is the importance of winning the enthusiastic support of the many different groups of people who are vital to the biobanking process. These include patients and their communities as well as doctors, nurses, scientists and administrators. Only when all these groups are working together, can we be fully effective in building high quality biobanks to support advances in medical research," Hewitt said.

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About the Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg (IBBL)
The Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg - co-founded by the nation's three Public Research Centers Santé, Tudor and Lippmann, and by the University of Luxembourg - holds the promise of becoming the premier European hub for advanced biobanking, biotechnology and biomedical informatics. While most European and U.S. biobanks focus on collection and distribution of specimens, the IBBL will implement uniform standards for collection, storage and distribution of a full range of tissue samples, including blood, serum and tumor tissues. This next-generation biobank will provide molecular-based characterizations of biospecimens linked to clinical studies. The project will leverage expertise in biology, pathology, informatics and information technology infrastructure, laboratory operations, transportation, legal matters and ethics. The IBBL will serve as a centralized resource for sharing and comparing research results through a robust, scalable and secure bioinformatics system that supports the collection, processing, storage, annotation and distribution of biospecimens and data.

Contact:
Mrs. Marie-Paule Hoffmann
Tel. +352 274464-30
E-mail: [email protected]


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