Within the Partners HealthCare Biobank—a collection of patient blood samples combined with Partners electronic health record data and self-reported family health history—volume yields insights. Which makes the Biobank’s recent milestone—surpassing 100,000 participants to become one of the nation’s largest banks—a significant win for clinical research that is helping physicians better understand, treat, and prevent diseases for patients.
“The Biobank has truly revolutionized the way that we do research at Partners and the more participants we have, the more powerful the resource is,” said Elizabeth Karlson, MD, Division of Rheumatology, Immunology, and Allergy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who was one of the original leaders of the Biobank and who is currently developing machine learning algorithms to define disease phenotypes for genomics research in the Biobank. “The Biobank enables our researchers to easily search for and request the specifications that they are interested in looking at without the need to recruit the hundreds or thousands of patients often required to carry out a study.”
During its relatively short existence, the Biobank has proven its value on both macro epidemiological and individual patient levels. “We are already seeing tremendous results from the Biobank, both for individual patients where a health concern was identified to large studies that are helping us to identify diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer in patients who have yet to develop any symptoms,” says Scott T. Weiss, MD, Principal Investigator at the Partners Biobank and Scientific Director of Partners HealthCare Personalized Medicine.
Researchers and clinicians at the Brigham, Massachusetts General Hospital, and other Partners institutions are using the Biobank to study how genes, lifestyle, and other factors affect people’s health and contribute to disease. To date, the resource has supported more than 200 innovative research studies, spanning the genetic underpinnings of cardiomyopathy and patient response to antidepressants, to predictors of Alzheimer’s and cancer.
For Kristine Trudeau, a nurse from West Springfield, Massachusetts, the impact of greater insight gleaned from the Biobank is personal. By voluntarily providing her blood sample as part of routine care, Trudeau led researchers to the BRCA-2 gene present in her DNA—ultimately leading to early detection and successful treatment of breast cancer.
“I would have never known that I was at risk if I hadn’t donated to the Biobank,” says Trudeau.