A benchmark technology platform for researchers seeking answers in DNA
José Pichel Andrés/ DICYT Prodigious development of genomics during the last few years has lead to many DNA study based biomedical breakthroughs. Diagnose, prognosis and development of therapies for all kinds of conditions are linked to genetic studies. That explains the increasing importance of biobanks as storage centers of biological samples used by researchers. This is the ultimate objective of the Spanish National DNA Bank, a service provided by the Instituto de Salud Carlos III located in the Centro de Investigación de Cáncer de Salamanca, a cancer research center, and it also belongs to NUCLEUS, the Plataforma de Apoyo a la Investigación de la Universidad de Salamanca, a platform aimed to support research.
This service came up in 2004, when the Fundación Genoma España committed itself to the development of a large national biobank allowing Spain to join major genome projects such as Human Genome Project (to date, Spain was not able to take part in them). The proposal chosen for the purpose was presented by the team in Salamanca, responsible for collecting samples throughout Spain and backed by around 50 centers.
“We now have samples from more than 35,000 individuals”, as we were told by Andrés García Montero, technical manager and maximum authority of the biobank, by Alberto Orfao, scientific manager and by Enrique de Álava, assistant director.
Scientists have estimated some 900,000 small tubes filled with DNA stored in the center and about 60,000 samples have been granted to more than 100 research projects, resulting in many publications in scientific journals. The samples were taken from healthy individuals representing the Spanish population and from individuals suffering various conditions. Even if scientists are familiar with human genome, the role of each gene comprising it and the variability between individuals, which is a key element to study diseases, are still unknown.
“The chief objective of our first project was to look for a representative collection of healthy Spain inhabitants, what we needed to be part of major international projects”, as Andrés García Montero explains. Nowadays, there are 4,500 samples from all Spanish autonomous communities according to the population size of each of the areas.
Their next step was to obtain samples containing the most prevalent and greatest impact diseases: cardiovascular diseases (heart arrest, angina), metabolic disorders (diabetes, obesity), many types of cancer and neurological and mental disorders such as Alzheimer, Parkinson disease, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis.
Then, “we have backed major projects focusing on a specific disease”, as the manager told us. Sequencing chronic lymphatic leukemia, in the framework of a large international project that aims the sequencing of the main types of cancer, is just one example. They were also working with rare diseases such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and mastocytosis.
“Any researcher who needs samples we have in storage can request them, the only requirement is presenting a project that will be assessed by a scientific and an ethics committee responsible for deciding whether the samples would be sent or not”, he states. Most of the requests come from Spain, but many samples have been solicited for international projects.
Apart from supporting other groups’ studies, this biobank also develops its own projects, especially focused on technological research, to improve the software used for data analysis and integration, for instance.
Automation, Robots and Maximum Security
The equipment of the biobank is based on sample storage and information management in order to keep and recover samples. On one hand, the DNA bank has freezers and liquid nitrogen tanks ensuring the adequate preservation of the samples. Security systems guarantee that power outages or system failures will not damage the material in the biobank, with liquid CO2 bottles, for example. On the other hand, the system ensures traceability of samples: every DNA tube carries codes to identify it. The work is performed with robots that are directly linked to the computer system, which avoids potential human errors.
| Technical manager | Andrés García Montero | Address | Servicio Banco Nacional de ADN. Centro de Investigación del Cáncer. Campus Miguel de Unamuno s/n. 37007, Salamanca | Email | firstname.lastname@example.org. | Information | http://nucleus.usal.es/bnadn