Partners HealthCare enrolls more than 100,000 biobank participants

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Boston-based Partners HealthCare is home to one of the country’s largest biobanks in support of clinical research.

According to Partners HealthCare, the biobank now includes more than 100,000 participants who have consented to provide a small blood sample that is linked to their electronic medical record data, as well as a self-reported health information survey on lifestyle, environment and family history.

Partners includes Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.

“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,” says Elizabeth Karlson, MD, who leads the rheumatic disease epidemiology group in the section of clinical sciences in the division of rheumatology, immunology and allergy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Partners HealthCare investigators, with approval from the Partners Institutional Review Board, can request the data free of charge through the biobank portal, which serves as a query tool enabling researchers to tailor their requests based on clinical data from participants’ electronic health records and information from the self-reported survey.

“In addition to the sample size, a key differentiator for our biobank is the electronic portal that we developed to help researchers search for disease phenotypes and request the data samples that they need for their studies,” adds Karlson, who is currently developing machine learning algorithms to define disease phenotypes for genomics research. “The biobank combines genotype data, electronic health record data with lifestyle information from a health survey, so our researchers can 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.”

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Partners’ biobank has contributed samples or data to more than 200 studies, including current research on the genetic causes of cardiomyopathy, the role of genes in rheumatoid arthritis, and the role of genetics and epigenetic changes to DNA in cerebral aneurysms.

“This is a significant milestone for Partners and the research community,” says Scott Weiss, MD, principal investigator at the Partners Biobank and scientific director of Partners HealthCare Personalized Medicine. “Greater participation in the biobank enables us to increase the scale and scope of our research and provides our researchers with access to data and information that would otherwise take them years to source.”

“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,” adds Weiss.

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