The science of biobanking is becoming increasingly complex with tremendous quantities of samples and a broad array of tests related to these samples. The data contained in biobanks has become overwhelming for the traditional systems, thus requiring a new, modern approach to the way information is stored, retrieved and handled in biobanks. The Biobanking and Molecular Resource Infrastructure of Sweden (BBMRI.se), managed by Professor Jan-Eric Litton of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, is a first attempt to organise these large collections of data and transforming it into valuable knowledge to be used by health care professionals.
Slow access is a universal problem among biobanks in general. In order to address the challenges brought by larger data supplies and more complex biobank information BBMRI.se was established at the Karolinska Institute with financial support from the Swedish Research Council. Interestingly, BBMRI.se is the largest investment that the Swedish Research Council has made so far within the area of medical infrastructure. BBMRI.se is also part of a newly presented joint initiative between 14 countries in the European Union, BBMR ERIC.
A common Swedish biobank infrastructure
“We propose a new biobank infrastructure that will eliminate the traditional problem of slow access of biobank data. Our approach relies on the creation of a common Swedish biobank infrastructure for both research and health care in Sweden. After signing an agreement with the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL) at the start of 2012, we have developed a model for the common biobank based on four levels: unified sample handling, unified data integration, common financing and governance and finally, joint education activities”, Jan-Eric Litton explains.
The project is shared between BBMRI.se and the National Biobank Council (NBR), consisting of eight biobank experts in total. The mission includes a framework for research over boundaries and compatibility with the national health care system in Sweden. Litton continues: “Through our extensive project we strive to enable access to information and knowledge that will answer important research questions. Better and faster access to biobank samples will result in better care for the individual patient as health care professionals are able to collect and compare samples without delay”.
BBMRI.se involved in large-scale cardio study
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) and Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are two of the leading causes of death in Sweden. In order to study the disease mechanisms and improve diagnostics and treatments a large-scale study has been initiated by the Heart-Lung Foundation, opting to collect samples from 30 000 men and women ages between 50 and 65. A pilot study, SCAPIS, covering 1000 randomly selected individuals has already commenced. The logistics of using BBMRI.se as a biobank provider is also being evaluated as a part of the pilot study.
The future: making personalised medicine reality
The technology required to set up a common biobank infrastructure already exists, but it needs to be refined and implemented. The real challenge is to develop research models that use the available technology in a way that is compatible with the biobank infrastructure.
“We have successfully created information about biobank information, a set of biobank metadata that enables us to organise all Swedish biobanks into an integrated system. The next step is to develop an infrastructure for all biobanks in the Nordic countries plus Estonia”.
This initiative is also coordinated by Jan-Eric Litton. The future approach to biobanking will be faster, more efficient and perhaps even conducted on a global scale, organising massive quantities of data into an accessible common infrastructure which will make personalised medicine reality.
For more information please visit www.bbmri.se.