Biobanks link together old and new collections
The Finns have been gathering samples for medical research for over 50 years! However, the first two official biobanks were registered just over two years ago. To take advantage of the extensive collections already gathered (with samples all the way from the sixties!), Finland recently passed the Biobank Law, which allows modern biobanks to make the old sample collections available for multiple research purposes. The law also allows wide consent for prospective collections.
How did it all start?
The beginning of Finnish biobanking could be attributed to innovative idea of the Finnish Mobile Clinic Unit. The clinic was created to conduct health examinations around Finland. Over 100 000 Finns were examined in the study. The mobile clinic unit gathered lifestyle information and biosamples from each participant and has afterwards followed their health records spanning over 40 years. This data is now stored in the THL Biobank. Hundreds of scientific research reports have been published based on these records.
But this was just the beginning! Since then FINRISK and Health 2000 projects have continued the tradition of population collections. Simultaneously, pathology departments all over the Finland have carefully stored millions of samples and data accumulating in the course of clinical treatment.
Today there are 8 closely collaborating biobanks in Finland. The decades worth of biosamples are currently being transferred to these modern biobanks to make them available for scientists.
What have we learned?
We have come a long way since the days of the Finnish Mobile Clinic Unit in the 1960s. The changes have been both technological and social.
The rapid technological advances have been astonishing. These days there are growing knowledge on human genomics, which enables us to better understand the genetic information derived from the biological samples. This deeper understanding of the data contained in the biosamples, combined with a personal social security numbers and fully digitalized healthcare system, allow us to follow the health data of these cohorts during all their life.
Regarding the social atmosphere, the modern Finn wants to be an active participant in the research process. While it means having to give the donors more control over their samples, it also translates to high confidence in biobank research and consequently high participation rates.
Combining population and clinical collections
The strength of the Finnish biobank infrastructure is based on the social security number and comprehensive healthcare registers combined with high quality sample collections. For instance, relating to data on present cancer cases, there often is a possibility to search retrospectively environmental or microbial risk factors from previous samples of the same individuals. This is just one example how scientists are able to combine the latest, cutting-edge research methods and scientific knowledge with extensive data from vast biosample collections.