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Biobanks, biospecimens and big data will change the world

June 14, 2018

Biobanks, biospecimens, and big data will be world-changing

By Dr. Christopher J. Ianelli, iSpecimen

Every sample has a story to tell. My co-presenter Rohit Gupta was referring to biospecimens in that presentation title. “What would the patients say if they knew that all their samples you collected are still sitting in a freezer somewhere?” he asked the audience. “Samples are not meant to live in a freezer. Their sole purpose in life is to produce data.”

He’s right. We were on stage at Precision Medicine World Congress (PMWC) 2018 Silicon Valley, a leading precision medicine conference, presenting on biospecimens as building blocks for precision medicine discovery.

Extracting data from samples shaved years off research project

Extracting stories from biospecimens is very much a personal mission for Rohit, executive director of Stanford Biobank & Clinical Research Services (CTRU) at Stanford University. His wife is afflicted with an array of medical conditions, some quite rare, which naturally raises concerns about his daughter’s medical future. Patient biospecimens are the source of vast amounts of data that are giving us new clues every day about our health and prognoses.

In the session (video), Rohit explains the importance of proper biobank design, the value of a unified specimen/data search interface, and a research project that was executed in a month because of data already extracted from samples. It could have taken years.

Human biospecimens a linchpin for an optimized life

Our co-presenter Renee Deehan-Kennedy, Ph.D., vice president of computational biology at PatientsLikeMe, picked up where Rohit left off. She calls biospecimens “a linchpin for a digitized, optimized life.” She is working to build an insight engine to digitize biospecimens and other elements of our environment and health experience.

She posed the question during our track session (watch video): What if you could know the health impact of, say, your next burrito, workout or beer? Well, given enough data and analysis, you could make better choices: “I have many friends who just wish they had a map in front of them that said, ‘Eat this, don’t do that, do  this.’”

Helping biobanks change the world

Our goal at iSpecimen is connecting the patients, specimens and data that people like Rohit and Renee work with to the researchers who can take the information further.

Health care providers have accumulated millions of samples in biorepositories in recent years, and research demand has gone through the roof. By our count, there are more than 800 biobanks in the U.S. alone and half a billion samples in reserve. But headlines continue to document a scarcity of samples for researchers. The problem is that biobanks and researchers haven’t been able to find each other without considerable effort. This gap threatens to waste money and jeopardize opportunities to help patients.

We’re committed to helping bridge the gap between biobanks and researchers, and creating liquidity through the specimen procurement system. We want biobanks to fulfill the proclamation issued by Time magazine in 2009, that biobanking was going to “change the world.” It hasn’t, but it will.

 If you’re interested in digging deeper, you can watch the full conference track session here, titled “Biospecimens as Building Blocks for Precision Medicine Discovery.” The video will be worth your time.