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Manchester clears first hurdle in €170 million European biobank building boom

The University of Manchester has been successful in gaining major European Union funding to begin joint planning of how millions of biological samples, such as DNA, can be managed and made available to research scientists across Europe.

The Centre for Integrated Genomic Medical Research (CIGMR), based in the School of Translational Medicine, is playing a key role in developing the Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure (BBMRI) alongside scientists and funding agencies in other European member states.

This infrastructure will link new and existing biobanks across the continent and planners anticipate the cost of construction will exceed €170 million.

The initial planning phase will last two years and cost €5 million, the sum announced today (Thursday). It will answer key questions, including whether the infrastructure will comprise a number of physical buildings in locations across Europe or whether a virtual infrastructure would be the best option, or a combination of both.

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Dr Martin Yuille, Reader in Biological Resource Management and associate coordinator for the planning phase, said: “This European biobanking infrastructure is as important to biomedical science as CERN is to Physics or Jodrell is to Astronomy.

“It will counter fragmentation in Europe that is impeding access to valuable resources essential for translating the human genome sequence into health benefits.”

Advances in robotics, miniaturisation and imaging are allowing detailed molecular analysis of biological samples. For biomedicine this means that samples from very large numbers of patients and healthy individuals need to be studied to discover, for example, the genes that underlie our risk of diseases like heart disease, cancer or Alzheimer’s.

Manchester is already a leading centre for this area of research. It is host to the UK Biobank - a world-leading study of how genes and lifestyle contribute to health and disease.

It also leads the UK DNA Banking Network (UDBN), the biobanking facility that manages UK samples and associated data from key priority diseases, such as cancer, mental health, heart disease, ageing and diabetes.

UDBN has distributed more than 40,000 samples to labs worldwide. The facility was built with support from the Medical Research Council which continues to maintain it. The Council has recently announced that it plans to enter into discussions with other funders to explore their potential interest in developing joint biobanking facilities for large DNA sample collections.

Professor Bill Ollier, Director of CIGMR in Manchester, said: “We are pleased that The University of Manchester is continuing to play a key role in facilitating cutting-edge science in medical research and that MRC is committed to work along with other funders to develop the UK’s biobanking infrastructure.”

Aeron Haworth | alfa
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