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Berlin Institute of Health, Charite Open Biobank to Support Personalized Medicine Projects

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The Berlin Institute of Health and Charité – University Medicine Berlin have opened a new biorepository that will engage with clinical researchers and foster future personalized medicine efforts in the German capital.

According to BIH CEO Erwin Böttinger, BIH and Charité spent a combined €3.9 million ($4.1 million) to create the BIH Charité Biobank, which is capable of hosting more than 2 million samples, with BIH supplying €3.3 million for the repository.

In an interview, he characterized the new biobank as "unique to Germany," and central to BIH's efforts to use genomics to benefit German patients.

"In order to thoroughly investigate the causes and mechanisms of diseases and to establish value-based personalized healthcare via translational research and innovation it is necessary to provide researchers with access to clinical material and comprehensive clinical information," said Böttinger.

"Within the biobank, we are not only establishing the collection of project-related samples, but [will] accumulate a wide variety of clinical biomaterial, which will provide the basis for future research projects," he said.

Böttinger joined BIH in November 2015, two years after the institute was founded with an initial five-year endowment of €300 million, which is set to transfer to an annual budget of €80 million beginning in 2018. He previously had served as director of the Charles Bronfman Institute for Personalized Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York since 2007.

Böttinger said that his "expertise and background on personalized medicine in the US" will "help to move Germany's innovation on personalized medicine forward."

Personalized medicine research is one of BIH's five areas of focus, along with records digitization, increased patient involvement, development of advanced therapies, and technology innovation. It is also one of BIH's two key areas for disease research, where it is supported by the center's multiscale genomics platform, which includes access to Ilumina HiSeq 4000 and NextSeq 500 instruments, and Fluidigm's C1 system, which enable users to run whole-genome, whole-exome, and RNA sequencing. BIH funds interdisciplinary research projects with a translational perspective, as well as clinical research.

The biobank will therefore provide investigators at BIH, Charité, and other institutions with an "outstanding basis" for realizing personalized medicine and data-driven medical research in Germany, said Böttinger. Moreover, Böttinger said that BIH and Charité are raising funds to establish a new Genomic Medicine Center with "state-of-the-art sequencing capabilities" that will interface with the biobank.

"The goal is to sequence a large fraction of germline and/or somatic DNA samples for patients who provided consent and blood and/or tissue samples," Böttinger said.

He said that BIH is seeking €20 million to support the planned Genomic Medicine Center, "which will be focused in bridging genome science and applications in medicine." He said that BIH's genomics core facility would provide sequencing services to the envisioned center, which will be led by a new director in translational genomics.

By sequencing and characterizing stored data sets, Böttinger said that affiliated researchers will eventually be able to "move toward personalized precision medicine," by uncovering biomarkers that can be used to identify subgroups that are relevant to therapy.

The BIH-Charité Biobank operates at two locations. The main site — a new, two-story, environmentally sustainable building — is housed at  Charité's Virchow-Klinikum campus, while a second site is maintained at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine at Charité's Berlin-Bush campus.

According to Böttinger, the new biobank at Virchow-Klinikum is equipped for the storage of liquid and tissue samples from clinical routine diagnostics and clinical studies, as well as from model organisms, while the Berlin-Buch facility is focused on the long-term storage of liquid samples from large patient cohorts.

Both sites offer sample storage at -80°C, -20°C, and +4°C, as well as liquid nitrogen storage; automated DNA extraction; slide scanning; targeted resequencing; immunohistochemistry; fluorescence in situ hybridization; tissue microarray construction; IT solutions; and consulting, Böttinger said. In terms of the latter service, Böttinger said that BIH Charité Biobank will assist researchers with designing, planning, and implementing their studies, as well as questions about data protection and ethical issues

While the current capacity is for around 2 million samples, Böttinger estimated that BIH Charité Biobank could eventually scale up to store 6 million samples. Clinical samples will originate from routine patient care at Charité hospitals, Charité research initiatives, from MDC and BIH scientists, as well as from clinical trials, he said. Böttinger noted that the biobank is equipped to store all types of human biological materials, including tissue and various types of liquid samples, such as serum, plasma, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid, as well as processed biological materials such as DNA and RNA.

BIH Charité Biobank specializes in particular in the automated isolation of nucleic acid, Böttinger said, noting that the facility is equipped with an automated instrument that can extract DNA from 32 large-volume blood or saliva samples per run. "Several sample scanners are available to digitize histological sections of which high-definition images can then be produced and made available to researchers online," he added.

The ability to offer storage of many, diverse samples, as well as that menu of services, sets the new biobank apart from others in Germany, according to Böttinger.

"Important is not only the number, but also the variety of liquid and tissue samples which we store at the biobank," said Böttinger. "This helps to establish a direct connection between basic research and medical care at Charité," he said.

He also stressed that BIH Charité Biobank is a clinical biobank, meaning that it "primarily collects, stores, and processes biological samples from patients and links these samples to clinical information." It thus serves as the connecting link between clinical treatment and research and creates additional potential for translational research in Berlin.

Michael Hummel, a professor of experimental hematopathology, has been tapped to head the BIH Charité Biobank, drawing on his experience as head of Charité's Central Biomaterial Bank (ZeBanC), which he led since 2011, and which is being folded into the new repository. Hummel also coordinates the German Biobank Node, a network of national biobanks, meaning that BIH Charité Biobank will now have a leading role within GBN.

Hummel said in a statement that the new biobank is applying a certified data protection concept that relies on double pseudonymization, making it "impossible to re-identify patients and test subjects." Researchers may only use biobank samples with the consent of Charité's ethics committee, he further noted.