by +Mike Poller – -Today’s researchers have a new set of tools to help uncover the roots of human disease and personalize prevention and treatment efforts. To take advantage of the emergence of faster, more affordable DNA sequencing technology, Mayo Clinic is establishing a biobank at its campus in Jacksonville. The Mayo Clinic Biobank is an extension of an effort that started at Mayo in Rochester, Minn. in 2007.
Mayo Clinic in Florida has already begun enrolling volunteers in the Biobank, and expects to add at least 5,000 in the next five years, says Alexander Parker, Ph.D., an epidemiologist and Florida-based associate director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine.
“Our mission at Mayo is to improve understanding of human disease and translate this knowledge into better prevention and care for all populations,” Dr. Parker says. “We are grateful to our participants in the Mayo Clinic Biobank for their willingness to provide the DNA samples and information that will support the next generation of scientific inquiry, and drive us closer to more individualized medical care for everyone.”
Participants who enroll in the Mayo Clinic Biobank are asked to grant access to their medical records, complete a 12-page lifestyle questionnaire and donate a blood sample, from which DNA is extracted and stored for future use. Participation in the Biobank is currently limited to people already receiving routine care at Mayo Clinic. It likely will eventually be opened to non-Mayo patients.
More than 40 research projects are using genetic and health information housed in the Mayo Clinic Biobank to explore questions related to a range of human diseases, including heart disease, hypertension, hypothyroidism and cancers such as myeloma and leukemia, and cancers of the colon, breast, brain, lung, liver and kidney.
Dr. Parker, a kidney specialist, says one study is looking at how frequently a genetic mutation found in kidney cancer patients occurs in healthy individuals. The Biobank makes it easier for researchers to perform studies because samples and information from many different people will be available in one place. Researchers can use the Biobank like a library. When they want to study a health issue they can use Biobank samples instead of finding new samples.
“One of my goals is to understand how genetics interacts with the environment to affect a person’s risk of developing kidney cancer,” he says. “Now, through a simple query of the Mayo Biobank, we are able to rapidly identify control individuals who have no history of kidney cancer and gain access to their DNA and lifestyle data. This essentially reduces the time needed to do the work from years to months, which moves the process along at a faster pace.”
Other benefits of opening the Mayo Biobank in Florida include access to more diverse populations outside the Midwest and allowing for better design of studies aimed at disorders that have a higher prevalence in Southern states, such as skin cancer and kidney stones.
“Participating in an effort like the Biobank is an altruistic gesture on the part of these volunteers. It is a wonderful contribution to our efforts to improve medical treatment and disease prevention for all,” Dr. Parker says.