What are Biobanks?
To support and advance medical research in fields such as precision medicine, it is crucial to be able to store biological samples such as genetic and clinical material such as tissue, blood, etc. These samples are sorted according to various criteria specific to the individual's environmental, societal, and other factors that allow for a more targeted therapeutic approach for diseases/disorders.
Biobanks have been developed to store these samples to make this process as efficient as possible. An example of a well-established biobank is a DNA bank of Electronic Medical Records and Genomics (eMERGE) in the United States that supports genomic research. There are different types of biobanks, such as population; and general disease-oriented biobanks. Population biobanks collect biomarkers from DNA samples of healthy donors to identify disease susceptibility within individuals from a country, region, and ethnic group.
A general disease-oriented biobank is used for epidemiological purposes where biomarkers from a large sample number of a healthy cohort are used to keep track of exposure. This article will discuss how biobanks are used to develop precision medicine, a healthcare approach to make treatments more personalized for patients. It will also discuss some specific examples where biobanking and precision medicine have been integrated to improve healthcare.
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What is precision medicine (PM)?
PM was developed to improve clinical care by tailoring therapies and treatment to the individual. The National Institutes of Health define PM as "an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that considers individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person." This approach is known as 'Evidence-based medicine (EBM)'. Patients can access technologies like genome sequencing kits, health sensors, etc., from their homes, making healthcare much more bespoke.
PM is integrated with translational medicine, whereby large sets of clinical data are translated to reveal correlations between individuals and their susceptibility to different diseases. For example, the International Personal Genome Project produced a map of 1092 human genomes, showing genetic variation within those populations. This allows the development of PM, providing a greater understanding of how genetic disorders/variations correlate with different ethnicities and racial backgrounds. Consequently, this allows for more personalized and improved healthcare treatments, meeting the goal of PM.
The use of biobanking in precision medicine
PM relies on efficient coordination and collecting samples, processing, and labeling to make research and healthcare more efficient and effective. Biobanks can store large amounts of high-quality specimens in relation to genetics, imaging, biochemistry, and pathophysiological processes, which allows the identification of biomarkers and specific targets that contribute to the PM process. Different areas of precision medicine have relied on biobanking, such as cancer research. For biobanks to operate efficiently, they must be consistent and adhere to strict standards to ensure that high-quality samples are collected.
The development of PM has been accelerated by cancer research due to the need for treatments that are more tailored to an individual patient because of the general toxicity of cancer drugs used as a general treatment for all patients.
Biobanks can be used to collect information surrounding the genetic and environmental causes of cancer among families and the population. Additionally, information can be collected that focuses on the molecular pathology of different cancers to develop diagnostic techniques. It also focuses on the correlation between an individual patient's genome/genetics and how this affects their response to treatment.
The challenges faced by people with cancer can vary. Research into cancers, particularly rare forms, is hindered due to the limited number of cases in a country or sample collection centers. Biobanks can help solve this issue through networking between cancer centers and research institutions by exchanging information and biological materials. This allows larger amounts of high-quality samples and data to be collected, enabling further research that aids in the study and classification of rare cancers.
A successful example of a cancer biobank network is The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study, which consisted of 10 European countries and 23 EPIC centers that collected biospecimens and data, including blood samples, lifestyle, and dietary information. This study allowed researchers to study mortality caused by different cancers and the lifestyle, cause of death, and diet of the patients.
What is UK Biobank?
Can Biobanks be the future of precision medicine?
The development of precision medicine has caused a greater need for more biobanks which have greatly helped healthcare initiatives transition from a standard approach that is applied to every patient to one that is personalized according to everyone's needs. Biobanks can help streamline this process by collecting biological samples that are widely accessible to advance research in the healthcare field. Therefore, biobanks can be the future of precision medicine and make healthcare more bespoke, but they must be much more stringent in terms of sample types collected to ensure that any results can be applied accurately. Additionally, one of the major issues with biobanks is the cost due to the handling and storing of samples, hence why biobanking needs to be more specific in the samples they collect, correlating it with the disease and type of therapy needed. Ultimately, this could revolutionize patient care and lead to more therapeutic approaches for rare diseases.
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