The Finnish Blood Service’s Biobank (Blood Service Biobank) conducts research aimed at health promotion through research projects to prevent illness and identify pathological mechanisms. The Blood Service Biobank also specialises in transfusion medicine issues from both the donor’s and the patient’s perspective.
BIOBANK RESEARCH PROJECTS
The significance of genetic background for the function of Natural Killer cells
Novel treatment strategies are still required for the treatment of malignant haematological conditions such as various types of leukaemia. This research project seeks to develop a new therapeutic approach that uses the intrinsic ability of so-called Natural Killer (NK) cells to destroy abnormal cells in the body, such as cancer cells or cells infected by a virus.
This novel cell therapy is being developed in collaboration between the Helsinki University Hospital and the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service. The project assesses how donors’ genetic makeup (genes) influences the activity, and thus the effectiveness, of NK cells. The results will allow us to find out whether there are interpersonal differences in NK cell activity that could be used in cell therapy, for example by selecting the NK cells best suited for a specific patient.
The following specimens and information will be collected during the project: Cell specimens isolated from excess products will be investigated to assess their genetic makeup, the expression of some genes and proteins related to the function of NK cells and other cells participating in the body’s immune defence, and the cells’ immunological properties under laboratory conditions. Subjects’ blood samples will also be assessed for antibodies against cytomegalovirus (CMV). The majority of Finns experience an asymptomatic CMV infection during their lifetime. This infection is known to influence the function of NK cells. The subjects’ genetic background information is retrieved from the Blood Service Biobank.
Using genomic data in the Blood Service: determining blood cell antigens from genomic data
Certain molecules (blood cell antigens) present on the surface of blood cells may cause a harmful immune response in the body, for example following a blood transfusion. Patients with more rare blood groups need suitable donors in order to avoid complications. Blood cell antigens are genetically determined and can thus be deduced on the basis of genomic data.
This project aims to apply mathematical methods to determine blood cell antigens using genomic data. The genomic data used is retrieved from the Blood Service Biobank material analysed in the FinnGen project. Using existing genomic data to pre-screen for donors with rare blood groups will make it easier to identify suitable donors, and the project will generate new information on the hereditary aspects of blood group antigens in the Finnish population.
Serum-based early diagnostics in head and neck cancer
Head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) account for more than half a million cases annually worldwide. Almost half of these patients will succumb to their disease in the first 5 years - despite the given treatment. Most HNSCCs leading to death are diagnosed in a clinically advanced stage and thus early detection of these tumours would be critical in trying to improve the prognosis and survival. Although both surgical and oncological treatments for HNSCC have developed during the past decades, their associated morbidity is high. Earlier detection of the tumors would thus diminish not only mortality but also morbidity of these cancers. At the moment, no blood biomarkers for the detection of early HNSCCs without clinical signs exist.
By applying the detailed analyses of serum proteins as well as glycosylated proteins followed by novel in silico tools for data interpretation, we aim to learn more of head and neck cancers pathogenesis as well as to find potential future diagnostic biomarkers to identify tumours at their early stage.
After identifying candidates in our high-end mass spectrometry work, we plan to develop more robust methods for larger validation series in patients, aiming to verify these candidate markers. Finally, we aim to launch clinically useful and validated diagnostic methods to be used at University Hospital Laboratory HUS Diagnostics Center (HUS Diagnostiikkakeskus).
Analysis of redox state alterations in metabolic and neurodegenerative disorders
Vitamin B3 balance is the subject of great international interest and drug development, as its tissue form, NAD, is essential for longevity and disease prevention. Diseases consume intramuscular NAD, but deficiency can be treated with so called NAD-boosters. Without the observed NAD deficiency, treatment may be even harmful, and therefore a test is needed to identify persons that are in need of treatment. Methods for testing NAD forms from easily assessable samples such as blood do not exist. NAD-metabolites regulate the repair, energy production and growth event is our tissues and organs, and are therefore a prerequisite for wellbeing and health of our body. Based on clinical and/or preclinical evidence, NAD deficiency and/or imbalance can occur in energy metabolic diseases, aging and cancer-related wasting. We invented a method to measure vitamin B3 derived NAD-metabolites levels directly from the blood which will help to identify individuals who will benefit from vitamin B3 supplementation.
FRCBS Blood donation research project: Genetics of Blood Donation
Finnish Red Cross Blood Service (FRCBS) recruits voluntary donors to donate blood. FRCBS’s duty towards the donors is to ensure safety of blood transfusions and minimize any adverse effects to blood donors. FRCBS carries out scientific research on health effects donation to minimize adverse health effects of donation, support decision making in FRCBS and in general advance understanding of blood donation. In this project FRCBS will link genotyping data of blood donors to their donation history data to analyse genetic predisposition to donation related phenotypes such as hemoglobin level, deferrals and adverse events.
Prevalence of hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection in the Finnish blood donor population and the risk assessment of blood-borne HEV infection
The study aims to investigate the epidemiology of hepatitis E virus (HEV) infections among blood donors in Finland and to estimate the risk of blood-borne HEV infection in Finland. 23 000 blood donor plasma samples acquired from the Blood Service Biobank will be tested for HEV RNA by the Procleix HEV assay for nucleic acid amplification testing. VIDAS HEV IgG and IgM serological tests are performed on RNA positive samples and for a seroprevalence study on samples from 1 000 blood donors. RNA positive samples will be further investigated regarding the level of viraemia and the HEV genotype. The results of the prevalence and incidence study are used to estimate the risk of transmission of HEV through blood products in Finland as a tool for risk-based decision about screening of blood donors for HEV RNA.
The FinnGen study
The FinnGen study is an extensive research project with both public and private sector involvement and with participants from Finnish universities, hospital districts, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), several international pharmaceutical companies, and Finnish biobanks. The Blood Service Biobank also participates in the FinnGen study. The main aim of the FinnGen study is to combine genomic data and health data in order to improve the understanding of pathological mechanisms.