Dr Robert Hewitt
Robert trained in medicine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, obtained an intercalated BSc with first-class honours in immunology and microbiology, then went on to do a PhD in virology at the University of Glasgow. He was a clinical lecturer in Histopathology at the University of Nottingham, then a post-doctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Pathology at NIH in Bethesda, MD, USA. He was introduced to biobanking as a clinical fellow at Hammersmith Hospital working in a team run by Professors Gordon Stamp and El-Nasir Lalani. Since then and for the past 20 years he has been active in establishing biobanks and developing the discipline of biobanking through his work in two biobanking associations, first ISBER and then ESBB. He has also worked for a CRO, which provided him with a valuable opportunity to see biobanking from the industry perspective.
In 2020, Robert founded a not-for-profit company called Biosample Hub, which has the mission of connecting companies and academic biobanks around the world. Contact between companies and biobanks is facilitated by an online platform, and frequent online conferences and meetings. The Biosample Hub network now includes over 80 non-commercial biobanks from North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australasia.
Biobanks Established (1998 - 2009)
From 1998 – 2000, Robert was involved in establishing the Human Biomaterials Resource Centre (HBRC) at Hammermith Hospital, Imperial College School of Medicine (ICSM), London. He played a key role in the development of a business plan for the HBRC and was involved in the development of contracts with a number of biotechnology companies in the UK and USA.
From 2000-2001, Robert established a biobank at the King Faisal Specialist Hosp, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
From 2002-2009, Robert established the NUH-NUS Tissue Repository (TR), a joint initiative of National University Hospital (NUH) and National University of Singapore (NUS). He took part in a collaboration with the Singapore Tissue Network (STN) in which samples were provided to the national biobank network. He established a collaboration with a Singapore-based drug-discovery company. He also established the first Hospital-based Cancer Registry (HCR) in Singapore through funding obtained from the Singapore Cancer Syndicate.
Service to ISBER (2005 - 2013)
List of Appointments
- Chair of the Publications Committee from 2010 – 2013
- President of ISBER from 2008 – 2009 (first president of the society outside USA).
- Chair of the Program Committee planning the 2008 annual meeting in Bethesda, MD, USA.
- Chair of the Local Organising Committee for 2007 annual meeting in Singapore (first meeting of the society in Asia).
- Chair of the Marketing Committee, 2007-2008
- Member of Governing Council, 2005 – 2013
Achievements as President of ISBER
- Established two new ISBER committees: The Publications Committee and the Long-Range Planning Committee
- Obtained support of the governing council for the establishment of regional chapters of ISBER. The Asian Chapter was founded in May 2009.
- Led a group of ISBER members to write a commentary article on the subject of post-operative informed consent, which was published in the journal, Cancer.
- Invited to become Associate-Editor of ISBER’s official journal, Cell Preservation Technology, by Liebert Publishing Company. Negotiated a change in the journal’s name to ‘Biopreservation and Biobanking’.
Achievements while Chair of Marketing Committee (May 2007-2008)
- Established a fundraising sub-committee
- Revitalised the ISBER newsletter and established the post of newsletter editor. Since the Spring 2008 edition the newsletter was expanded from 2 pages to 6-8 pages to include a variety of articles of interest.
- Conducted a comprehensive membership survey to identify background and interests of members.
- Played a leading role in development of ISBER’s strategic plan, completed in May 2008.
Organisation of 2007 ISBER annual meeting in Singapore
Convinced the ISBER Governing Council that Singapore would be an ideal venue for an ISBER meeting in Asia. Local support was gained from National University Hospital, National University of Singapore, Singapore Bioethics Advisory Council and the Singapore Tourism Board. Attracted speakers including the renowned bioethicists, Professor Arthur Caplan (University of Pennsylvania) and Professor Bartha Knoppers (University of Montreal). Also, Professor Jan-Eric Litton, a distinguished informatics expert from the Karolinska Instute. Chaired the Local Organising Committee for this conference. With the help of his team in Singapore, including Dr Eng Chon Boon, Mr Tan Kee Peck and Dr Rajeev Singh, he organised various events during the conference.
Service to Biopreservation & Biobanking journal (2009 - 2015)
Accepted the post of European Editor in May 2009. Progressively introduced changes including:
- New name: ‘Biopreservation and Biobanking’, after discussion with the Editor, Publisher, ISBER Publications Committee and other stakeholders. Previously the name was ‘Cell Preservation Technology’.
- New cover illustrations. Previously the same image appeared on every issue. Now a different colourful immonofluorescence image appears on each issue.
- Widened the journal scope to include the full range of biobanking issues from biospecimen science through to ethical, legal and social issues.
- Recruited 11 new section editors to cover: Biospecimen Research, Quality Assurance and Control, Preservation Processes, Preservation Engineering, Research Biobanks, Therapeutic Biobanks, General Management, Informatics, Facilities & Automation, Legal & Ethical Issues, Social Issues
- Introduced new article types: Standard Operating Procedures, The Experts Speak, and Biobank Profiles
- The journal was approved for Medline and Pubmed indexing in March 2014.
ESBB Management (2010 - 2017)
Robert co-founded ESBB with Pasquale De Blasio in 2010. The background to this is explained in the following LinkedIn article: ‘The Motivation Behind ESBB’.
He then managed the society as Executive Officer and sole employee until 2017. Over this period the society brought seven annual biobanking conferences to Europe:
- Marseille, France, 2011
- Granada, Spain, 2012
- Verona, Italy, 2013
- Leipzig, Germany, 2014
- London, UK, 2015
- Vienna, Austria, 2016 (Europe Biobank Week – a collaboration with BBMRI-ERIC)
- Stockholm, Sweden, 2017 (Global Biobank Week – a collaboration with both BBMRI-ERIC and ISBER)
Outstanding Achievement in Biobanking Award from ISBER in May 2012. The two previous recipients were Professor Kurt Zatloukal and Dr Carolyn Compton. Article by Dr Scott Jewell in Biopreservation & Biobanking.
Distinguished Service and Leadership Award from ISBER in May 2011.
Publications on Biobanking
Watson, P.H., Hewitt, R.E., Catchpoole, D.R., Grizzle, W.E. Biobank: What’s in a Name? (The Experts Speak). Biopreserv. Biobank 17, 204 – 208 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1089/bio.2019.29053.mjb
Hewitt, R.E., Grizzle, W.E., Watson, P.H., Lee, Y., di Donato, J.-H., Vaught, J. Biobank and Expertise Networks. In Biobanking of Human Biospecimens. Principles and Practice. Pierre Hainaut, P., Vaught, J., Zatloukal,K, Pasterk, M. Eds. (Springer International Publishing), pp 111- 135 (2017).
Schröder, C., Corfield, J., di Donato, J.H., Meir, K., Parodi, B., Schmitz, A.A., Tiran, A., Tybring, G., Hewitt, R.E. The Research Biobank of the Year Competition of the European, Middle Eastern and African Society for Biopreservation and Biobanking (ESBB): aims and achievements. Biopreserv Biobank. 12, 154-60 (2014).
Hewitt, R.E.& Watson, P. Defining Biobank. Biopreserv Biobank.11, 309–315 (2013).
Hofman, V., Ilie, M., Long, E., Washetine, K., Chabannon, C., Figarella-Branger, D., Clément, B., Mabile, L., Cambon-Thomsen, A., Boucher, P., Dagher, G., Hewitt, R., Parodi, B., and Hofman, P. Measuring the Contribution of Tumor Biobanks to Research in Oncology: Surrogate Indicators and Bibliographic Output. Biopreserv Biobank. 11, 235 – 244 (2013).
Harris, J.R., Burton, P., Knoppers, B.M., Lindpaintner, K., Bledsoe, M., Brookes, A.J., Budin-Ljøsne, I., Chisholm, R., Cox, D., Deschênes, M., Fortier, I., Hainaut, P., Hewitt, R., Kaye, J., Litton, J.E., Metspalu, A., Ollier, B., Palmer, L.J., Palotie, A., Pasterk, M., Perola, M., Riegman, P.H., van Ommen G.J., Yuille, M., Zatloukal, K. Toward a roadmap in global biobanking for health. Eur J Hum Genet. 20, 1105-11 (2012).
Chabannon, C., Doran, P, Hofman, P., Seberg, O., Cinotti, S., Bledsoe, M., Deigner, H.-P., Koschorreck, J., Dagher, G., Cooreman, A., De Blasio, P., Riegman, P. and Hewitt, R.E. Annual Conferences of the European, Middle Eastern and African Society for Biopreservation and Biobanking (ESBB): Overview of 2011 and Preview of 2012. Biopreserv Biobank.10, 407–415 (2012).
Hewitt, R. From the European Editor’s Desk. Biopreserv Biobank. 10, 405-406 (2012).
Hewitt, R., Hainaut, P. Biobanking in a fast moving world: an international perspective. J. Natl Cancer Inst Monogr. 42, 50-1 (2011).
Hewitt, R. From the Editor’s Desk. Biopreserv Biobank. 9, 1–1 (2011).
Hewitt, R.E. Biobanking: the foundation of personalized medicine. Curr Opin Oncol. 23, 112-9 (2011).
Vaught, J., Kelly, A., and Hewitt, R.E. A Review of International Biobanks and Networks: Success Factors and Key Benchmarks. Biopreserv Biobank. 7, 143-150 (2010).
Betsou, F., Rimm, D.L., Watson, P.H., Womack, C., Hubel, A., Coleman, R.A., Horn, L., Terry, S.F., Zeps, N., Clark, B.J., Miranda, L.B., Hewitt, R.E., and Elliott, G.D. The Experts Speak: What Are the Biggest Challenges and Opportunities for Biorepositories in the Next Three to Five Years? Biopreserv Biobank. 8, 81–88 (2010).
Hewitt, R. From the Editor’s Desk. Biopreserv Biobank. 8, 79–80 (2010).
Hewitt, R.E., Watson, P.H., Dhir, R., Aamodt, R., Thomas, G., Mercola, D., Grizzle, W.E. and Morente. M.M. Timing Of Consent For The Research Use Of Surgically-Removed Tissue: Is Post- Operative Consenting Acceptable? Cancer 115, 4-9 (2009).