In a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) building on the outskirts of Atlanta, large metal vats are arranged in the middle of a room like a set from a sci-fi movie. Inside each one, 40,000 vials are filled with an array of specimens such as blood, urine, tissue and DNA, many of them unique in the world, invaluable, and irreplaceable. They are frozen (some at nearly -200 C), so cold it ceases all biological processes so sample integrity is maintained for years without degradation.
For at least the next five years, Battelle experts will aid CDC in its responsibility for this important biological repository. The name of the 16-year-old facility in Lawrenceville, Georgia sounds like a friendly ghost but actually is a complicated nesting acronym—CASPIR. It stands for the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Specimen Packaging, Inventory and Repository, and it’s essentially a library of biological specimens.
The facility provides continuous, secure, long-term storage for scientists and researchers who are investigating such things as the world’s next viral outbreak. Subsets of each specimen, known as aliquots, are borrowed and deposited. Government detectives could be conducting epidemiologic studies, diagnosing diseases or making health interventions—so they might request blood samples from CASPIR that were collected in Africa 30 years ago.
Or they might be developing new vaccines and diagnostic tests for the next avian flu outbreak. If they’ve collected, say, hemoglobin from people in Asia who might be the victims, they’d want to catalog and store them. Battelle staff will be responsible for the chain of custody for each incoming and outgoing specimen, as well as being on call to supervise all cryogenics, gases and dry ice needed to maintain operations. Protecting the integrity, security and safety of these specimens is the paramount task for Battelle.
After a bidding process that ended late last year, the CDC awarded Battelle a five-year, $12.6 million contract to manage its unique collection of 12 million biological samples—in Lawrenceville as well as at the Roybal and Chamblee campuses of CDC.
“We are honored to have won the right to assist the CDC in running this important facility,” said Sudip Parikh, Battelle’s Health & Analytics General Manager. “It is just this kind of science, technology and lab management contract that highlights the strengths of our organization.”