The unique material that exists in Europe’s, and above all the Nordic countries’ and Sweden’s, biobanks is a goldmine for research. To put them to their best possible use, this information will now be coordinated, as will the ethical and technical guidelines regarding the use of the biobanks.
“If someone wanted to make comparisons across studies from different countries, or amalgamate studies to attain a really enormous database, it’s important for analyses to be carried out in the same manner,” says Ulf Landegren, professor of molecular genetics and the scientist responsible for coordinating the techniques and reagents to be used to examine the material in these biobanks.
Sweden boasts collections of biological material that are unique in the world and of great interest to scientists around the globe. For example, Uppsala Clinical Research Center, UCR, has fantastic samples for finding markers for good and bad prognoses regarding cardiovascular diseases, and at the Karolinska Institute there is a unique register for twins. Sweden is directing two of the work groups responsible for European coordination – besides Landegren’s group, the creation of a common database is being led by Jan-Eric Litton at KI.
“Sweden has the great advantage of having a system of civic registration numbers, a register of diseases, and also a domestic animal register, as well as a number of enthusiasts who have meticulously catalogued this collected biological material in well-organized archives,” says Ulf Landegren.
Europe also has important biobanks, and with an eye to facilitating the work of researchers, the EU has now brought them to the fore as a research infrastructure that is worth coordinating.
“But it is a finite resource, so it’s vital that we use the material in an effective way. What we need are overviews and common techniques that can be used to examine several different things in each sample.”
As Ulf Landegren sees it, biobanks are becoming more and more important as the cost of DNA sequencing declines. Having ready samples on hand means results can be obtained more quickly than if scientists had to start by gathering samples when the research question is formulated. What’s more, biobanks offer great commercial prospects.
“If we can find markers of early signs of disease, then companies can develop new drugs that can be tied to the subsequent diagnosis,” says Ulf Landegren.
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