Understanding why certain people develop a disease while others do not can help us find new ways of preventing the disease, detecting it as early as possible, and improve treatment options.
To discover what has changed inside the cells or tissues of a patient that has led to the development of treatments for cancer, diabetes or Parkinson’s, researchers need to have access not only to biological samples from patients, but also from people that do not have the studied disease, in order to draw comparisons. IBBL collects samples from healthy volunteers, called “control samples” for this use.
A resource for research
With the support of Dr Marc Keipes from the health centre Gesondheetszentrum at the ZithaKlinik, we currently collect blood samples that are used as healthy controls for several of our disease-specific studies. So far we have over 80,000 samples in our storage facilities from participants recruited through the Gesondheetszentrum. This represents a large portion of our total sample collection, which is not surprising given that, for statistical purposes, researchers generally need 4 control samples for each diseases sample they use.
Keeping an eye on the population
Healthy volunteers can also participate in observational studies designed to collect nationally representative health data, helping public health authorities adopt prevention strategies and tackle the real needs of the population. Initially set up in 2007, with the support of the Luxembourg government, the ORISCAV study was developed to monitor the heart of 1,432 volunteers, aged 25-80 years. The outcomes raised striking alarms over the population’s cardio-vascular health. Researchers discovered that up to 80% of the population were afflicted by at least one cardio-vascular risk factor. The second wave of the study is currently ongoing. As the biobank of Luxembourg, we help the LIH – project coordinator, with the collection, processing and storage of the blood and urine samples collected.
Focusing in on diseases
In future, we are planning to launch a few other healthy population collections. One of these collections will be focused on stool samples, which are becoming increasingly important in the field of microbiome research. This type of research studies the link between the bacteria on and in our bodies, for example the gut, and diseases such as cancer, diabetes and even Parkinson’s. We believe that microbiome research is a very promising field of research and, through this new population collection, we aim to become one of the first biobanks to host a comprehensive stool collection, where samples have been specifically prepared for microbiome research.
Biomedical research often involves the comparison of samples from patients to samples from healthy donors to gain more knowledge about the disease. This is why we collect samples from healthy volunteers that are used as “controls” in our disease-specific research programmes.
If you are healthy, you have several options to contribute to our research programmes:
- You can participate as a healthy control in the NCER Parkinson study
- You can donate a blood sample when you visit the ZithaGesondheetsZentrum at the ZithaKlinik, led by Dr Marc Keipes. These samples are used as healthy controls in cancer and biospecimen research projects.
What about ethics ?
All of our biological samples are contributions from volunteers, both patients and healthy citizens, who have given specific consent for the collection of their sample. Every donor has the right to withdraw their consent at any time, in which case all of the unused samples will be destroyed and related data deleted.
We work with national and international authorities to ensure that the collection and use of samples and data conform to high ethical standards and safeguard the privacy of the donor. All of our donors’ identities are kept strictly confidential and our data secured. We have a rigorous process in place to remove all identifying information from samples and health records at the source, so no identifying information is known by the biobank staff or given to researchers.
Before receiving any samples, research organisations must submit an application to our sample access committee. To receive the approval of this committee, applicants must show that they have the expertise to perform their proposed research, that the proposed research has ethical clearance, and that they have sufficient funds to see the research through to completion.