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Biobank research

The Blood Service Biobank conducts research aimed at preventing illnesses and identifying the pathological processes involved, the goal being to promote public health. The Biobank also specialises in specific medical aspects of blood transfusions from both the donor’s and the patient’s perspective.

Biobank material is only released for purposes of high-quality health research and product development. The scientific, technological and ethical value of all research projects is assessed before any release of biobank material.

Biobank research projects

Identification of novel immune mechanism by Single cell RNA sequencing using primary immune cells

(Virtakoivu Reetta, 2021)

This project aims to identify gene signatures and changes in gene expression which might regulate the immune cell response to a new or known therapeutic treatments. Different immune cell populations will be isolated from collected blood samples and cultured in laboratory conditions with different treatments. These cells will serve as an important research material helping us to unravel essential research questions and potentially quides us for design of future studies.

The effects of rare Finnish gene variants on the function of blood cells 

(FinnGen, 2021)

The FinnGen study has identified a number of potentially interesting gene variants that are particularly prevalent in Finland. Their prevalence in Finland is partly the result of the country’s settlement history and they are therefore very rare elsewhere. This means they can only be properly investigated in Finland. 

The FinnGen study will receive samples collected by the Blood Service Biobank from 2,500 blood donors. These are plasma and serum samples as well as cell samples from a white blood cell component separated from whole blood. The samples will be used to investigate the effects of gene variants on the function of blood cells. 

The aim of the study is to increase understanding of the significance of gene variants that are particularly prevalent in Finland in relation to disease prevention and susceptibility.

The significance of genetic background for the function of Natural Killer cells

(Kerkelä Erja, 2020)

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 jointly by Helsinki University Hospital and the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service. The project will assess 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 analysed 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 will be retrieved from the Blood Service Biobank.

Serum-based early diagnostics in head and neck cancer

(Silén Suvi, 2020)

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).

FRCBS Blood donation research project: Genetics of Blood Donation

(Arvas Mikko, 2020)

The Blood Service recruits volunteers to donate blood. It is responsible for ensuring safe blood transfusions and minimising any adverse effects on donors due to blood donation. By investigating the effects of regular blood donations on blood donors, the Blood Service produces scientific data on the health effects of blood donation and aims to minimise its adverse effects on donors. 

In this project, the Blood Service combines blood donors’ genomic data with their blood donation data, such as haemoglobin levels, blood donation rejections and any adverse effects of the donation, to investigate their potential genetic background.

The prevalence of hepatitis E among Finnish blood donors and assessment of blood-borne transmission risk

(Ekblom-Kullberg Susanne, 2020)

The aim of the study is to produce information about the prevalence of hepatitis E among Finnish blood donors and to assess the blood-borne risk of transmission of the virus in Finland. A quantitative HEV RNA nucleic acid amplification test using the Procleix HEV method will be performed on 23,000 plasma samples obtained from blood donors via the Blood Service Biobank. Later, VIDAS HEV IgG and IgM antibody tests will be performed on the RNA-positive samples. In addition, hepatitis E antibodies will be examined from 1,000 samples. The level of viremia and the HEV genotype will be determined from the RNA-positive samples. 

The results of prevalence and incidence studies will be utilised to assess the risk of hepatitis E transmission via blood products in Finland. The results will be used in risk-based decision-making on the need for HEV RNA testing among blood donors.

The role of systemic mechanisms resulting in oxidation-reduction state imbalance in metabolic and neurodegenerative conditions

(Wartiovaara Anu, 2019)

Vitamin B3 balance is a target of great international interest and drug development, as its tissue form NAD has been associated with longevity and prevention of illness. Illnesses consume NAD inside tissues, but the resulting deficiency can be treated with so-called NAD boosters. If there is no deficiency, treatment can even be harmful, so a test is needed to measure subjects’ vitamin B3 levels. 

There are currently no methods available to determine vitamin B3 and NAD types from easily accessible sample sources such as blood. NAD types regulate tissue-related repair, energy production and growth, so they are vital for our well-being. Based on clinical and pre-clinical information, NAD deficiency and/or imbalance are associated with energy metabolism disorders, ageing and tissue loss due to cancer. 

The aim of this project is to present a new approach that will measure NAD types from blood and thus facilitate the identification of those patients who need booster treatment.

Using genomic data in the Blood Service: determining blood cell antigens from genomic data

(Ritari Jarmo, 2018)

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 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 will be retrieved from the Blood Service Biobank material to be 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.

The FinnGen study

(FinnGen, 2017)

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 understanding of pathological mechanisms.