December 09, 2005

BioBanks move Schizophrenia Research Forward

Read more... Schizophrenia Biology

A report in today's Economist Magazine (out of the UK) reports that international biobanks are targeting diseases like schizophrenia, which is good news. The downside is that these biobanks have potential to used in a way that might not be viewed positively by everyone (an example of law enforcement use is cited where the Swedish government used their "anonymous" biobank to identify a killer of a leading government official last year - and the killer turned out to have a long history of psychiatric problems).

The Economist notes:

"WHAT do you get when you link a repository of tissue and DNA samples to a database of personal medical information and test results? A biobank. The combination is potent, because it can reveal things that tissue samples or medical records alone cannot. Drug companies and medical researchers can, for example, pick out samples from people with a particular disease, and determine its associated genetic variations to aid drug discovery. Public-health officials and epidemiologists should be able to identify disease patterns in subpopulations and ethnic groups far more quickly than is currently possible. And advocacy groups hope that disease-specific biobanks will accelerate research into disorders such as AIDS and breast cancer. ...

At a conference held in London in October, Britain and Norway announced a plan to co-operate on biobank-based research into the causes of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, schizophrenia and diabetes. With state-run health-care systems and strong research traditions, both countries are well placed in the field. Norway is collecting blood samples and health data from 200,000 citizens and from 100,000 pregnant women. Britain's project, called UK Biobank, will soon be gathering blood and urine samples and confidential lifestyle data from 500,000 volunteers aged 40-69, in an attempt to untangle the genetic and environmental causes of heart disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes and cancer. Participants will provide new samples and data for up to 30 years, allowing the development and course of different diseases to be tracked.

Similarly, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, which already runs one of the world's oldest university-based biobanks, plans to follow 500,000 Swedes for 30 years to gain new insights into depression, cancer and heart disease. There are numerous other examples such as Biobank Japan, the Estonian Genome Project, Singapore Tissue Network, Mexico's INMEGEN, and Quebec's CARTaGENE. Indeed, Sweden, Iceland, Quebec and Japan have been "banking" blood and tissue samples from their citizens for generations without attracting much attention. And all kinds of government institutes and university medical schools around the world have been collecting biological samples and clinical data as a matter of routine. These resources could now turn out to be extremely valuable.

But not everyone likes the idea. Bioethicists are quick to point out that the very thing that makes biobanks enticing and powerful to health-care professionals and drug companies makes them equally so to law enforcement, the insurance industry and government officials with a different agenda. "

"While bioethical and regulatory worries about biobanks abound, lack of agreement on standards could prove to be a more immediate impediment."

Source: The Economist


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