What is a biobank?

A biobank is a type of repository that stores biological materials, such blood and saliva that can be used in research. Biobanks have become a key resource to support medical research particularly in the fields of genetics and personalized medicine and for the development of biomarkers for various human conditions. Biobanks typically include samples from people affected by the same condition. In the future it is hoped that by combining genetic information (e.g. DNA or RNA) with other information, e.g. regarding physical symptoms or environmental factors, it will be possible to better understand how genes and environment interact to cause autism and to find better ways to prevent and treat the condition.

Why do we need an autism biobank?

Large collections of biomaterials from individuals affected by autism and their families have previously been assembled in the United States and have provided researchers with essential information to investigate the genetic factors that may contribute to autism. Many Irish families have previously participated in a biobank known as The AGP Simplex Collection (TASC) through Trinity College, which provided almost 2000 samples from 13 different centres internationally for research in autism genetics. This collection has been used widely in recent research that has shown that in some cases autism is caused by rare genetic changes. To progress research of this nature many more samples are likely to be required. In many fields of medical research, scientists are coming together to share samples globally so that studies have enough power to find some of the answers for complex conditions. It is proposed therefore to develop a biobank in Ireland that would collect DNA samples from people with ASD, willing to contribute, and their families. This would provide more samples to Irish researchers and to large-scale international studies to conduct genetic studies in autism. Biobanks are also increasingly used by private companies such as pharmaceutical companies to help research to develop new treatments for many conditions such as cancer and other common conditions like diabetes. Such a biobank might also be useful for pharmaceutical companies interested in researching new treatments for these conditions.