Biobank operations in 2019

The Helsinki Biobank has made huge progress. The use of biobank services in medical research expanded in 2019. The Helsinki Biobank received 92 health history queries (2018: 44) and 43 requests for delivery of biobank samples (2018: 19). There were also 58 deliveries under the Act on the Medical Use of Human Organs and Tissues. Researchers have clearly discovered the services of the Helsinki Biobank, and professional sample collection, storage, processing and delivery and the related information service, all provided for by the Biobank Act, are an object of growing interest in the scientific community.

Our sample pool increased significantly with the collecting of prospective blood samples in 2019, to more than 80,000 items. We have samples from about 700,000 patients cast in paraffin in our pathology archive. We also continuously accumulate significant numbers of fresh tissue and fluid biopsy samples. The HUS Data Pool is available to the Helsinki Biobank for routine use, which allows rich information content to be added to biobank sample deliveries, quickly and with data security.

In 2019, the Helsinki Biobank transferred its electronic service interface to the national portal.  The majority of sample delivery requests are from academic research projects, but interest among corporate researchers is growing. The FinnGen project, financed by nine international pharmaceutical companies and Business Finland and coordinated by the University of Helsinki and HUS (Helsinki Biobank), has made progress towards its goal of combining 500,000 DNA samples taken from Finns through biobank operations with health information available in national registries.  The genetic information package for the first 11,000 biobank samples donated to the FinnGen project was returned to the Helsinki Biobank in autumn 2019, and the first deliveries from this material have already been granted for new medical research projects. In 2019, the Helsinki Biobank initiated and publicized other corporate cooperation projects with Finnish companies Aiforia Oy, Blueprint Genetics Oy and Mehiläinen Oy.  Close cooperation with the Finnish Biobank Cooperative (FINBB) continued.

The research project “Tools for Phenotyping of Disease Entities (DigPhen)”, financed by Business Finland, concluded at the end of 2019. The use of electronic patient information systems as part of the biobank service portfolio was developed in a joint project by the Universities of Turku and Helsinki, the Helsinki Biobank and the Auria Biobank. This project made a significant contribution to bringing digital patient information into biobank research, identifying bottlenecks in data transfer and exploring solutions to them, adding information on the peculiarities of clinical data and its analysis, and introducing new research tools. These tools have been further used in the HUS100 registry research project, whose purpose is to study the specific characteristics of the 100 most common disorders in the HUS Data Pool.

The Helsinki Biobank is a partner in the European Innovative Medicines Initiative, whose purpose is to compile an extensive digital pathology image database for AI-based research and development purposes. The Helsinki Biobank is responsible for compiling images on pulmonary disorders and for creating an ‘honest broker’ mechanism for sharing the materials. CSC – IT Center for Science Ltd is another Finnish partner in the project.

The Helsinki Biobank has launched cooperation with the iCAN (Digital Precision Cancer Medicine) flagship project funded by the Academy of Finland and with the Southern Finland Regional Cancer Center (Fican South). The aim is to leverage the infrastructure of the Helsinki Biobank to compile thousands of samples from cancer patients at HUS for molecular profiling. The data could be used not only in research projects but also when recruiting patients for clinical pharmaceutical trials.

The Helsinki Biobank continues to progress swiftly in its work to contribute to customized medicine and aims to attract an increasing number of researchers. We are also striving to make the health care sector and the public at large aware of the benefits of biobanks.

Eero Punkka, Director of the Helsinki Biobank
Olli Carpen, Research Director of the Helsinki Biobank