Rare diseases affect close to 30 million people in the European Union (EU) alone. However, there are over 6,000 different forms of rare diseases. Although individually uncommon, collectively rare diseases affect millions of people worldwide. Research into these conditions is crucial to improve diagnostics, treatments, and, ultimately, the lives of affected patients.
Biobanking is defined as the process of collecting, storing, and managing biological specimens and associated data. It plays a pivotal role in advancing rare disease research. In this blog, we will explore the challenges and opportunities that biobanking presents in the context of rare diseases.
What Are Rare Diseases?
Rare diseases, also known as orphan diseases, are a diverse group of disorders with a prevalence of fewer than 1 in 2,000 individuals. Due to their low occurrence, diagnosing and researching rare diseases present unique challenges. Often, our understanding of the underlying mechanisms and progression of these conditions is limited due to a lack of adequate clinical data. That is where biobanks specific to rare diseases come in.
Opportunities for Biobanking Samples Specific to Rare Diseases
A systematic review was carried out to identify and compare the impact of stand-alone registries and rare disease biobanks on research outcomes. The researchers found that rare disease biobanks have a similar capacity for biological investigations.
In the context of rare diseases, biobanks that hold biological samples from individuals suffering from rare diseases have immense potential to address several critical aspects that include the following:
Biobanked samples enable researchers to identify novel biomarkers, genetic mutations, and disease-specific characteristics that aid in the early diagnosis of rare diseases and disease monitoring.
Disease Mechanism Exploration
Biobanked samples provide valuable insights into the molecular and cellular pathways involved in rare diseases. This helps researchers understand disease mechanisms and identify potential therapeutic targets.
Collaborative efforts among rare disease biobanks support the pooling of samples, data, and other resources, thereby accelerating rare disease research.
Rare disease biobanking provides an opportunity to involve patients and their families in research. This fosters a sense of ownership and strengthens the research community’s connection to the patients’ needs and priorities.
Drug Discovery and Personalized Medicine
Biobanks support drug development by providing researchers with well-characterized samples for testing potential treatments. Moreover, personalized medicine approaches can be facilitated by correlating patient genetic profiles with treatment responses.
Rare disease biobanks provide an avenue for the diagnosis and exploration of rare diseases. They hold promise for drug discovery and personalized care for patients suffering from rare diseases.
Challenges in Biobanking for Rare Diseases
While biobanking offers promising avenues for rare disease research, several challenges need to be addressed. They include the following:
Rare diseases often have small patient populations, i.e., one in two hundred thousand people in the US or 50 people per 100,000 population. Hence, it is difficult to collect well-characterized samples for research that can be stored in a biobank.
Biobanking may pose a risk with data standardization and introduce an opportunity for variability that can hinder cross-study comparisons. Standardizing data formats and terminologies across biobanks can enhance data sharing and collaboration.
Biobanking raises ethical concerns related to informed consent, data privacy, and sample ownership. Ensuring proper ethical guidelines and obtaining informed consent from patients or their families is essential.
Rare disease biobanking can be a costly affair, especially when samples are collected from diverse geographical locations. Securing sustainable funding is crucial for long-term biobank operations.
In spite of all the challenges, biobanks that specialize in rare diseases provide a myriad of opportunities.
Role of Biobanking Software in Rare Diseases Biobanking
A biobanking software, also known as a biobanking LIMS, serves as a powerful tool for managing samples, data, and associated information. Its ability to integrate and analyze diverse datasets, streamline workflows, and ensure regulatory compliance supports researchers in their efforts to advance rare disease research and improve patient outcomes. By leveraging the capabilities of a cloud-based biobanking software, biobanks can overcome geographical barriers to data sharing, accelerate rare disease research, and drive effective treatments for these conditions.
Biobanking for rare diseases presents both challenges and opportunities in the pursuit of better diagnostics, treatments, and overall management of these conditions. By addressing the challenges through collaborative efforts, standardizing data, and ensuring ethical practices, biobanking can become a powerful tool in advancing rare disease research. The collection and preservation of biological samples, together with comprehensive clinical data, have the potential to unlock critical insights into rare diseases. Ultimately, this will result in enhanced patient results and improved quality of life for patients suffering from rare diseases.