Current trends in biobanking for rare diseases: a review

Graham CE, Molster C, Baynam GS, Bushby K, Hansson M, Kole A, Mora M, Monaco L, Bellgard M, Carpentieri D, Posada M, Riess O, Rubinstein YR, Schaefer F, Taruscio D, Terry SF, Zatloukal K, Knoppers B, Lochmüller H, Dawkins HJS

Journal of Biorepository Science for Applied Medicine, November 2014


Rare diseases (RD) refer to a collection of approximately 5,000–8,000 individual diseases that have a low prevalence and are often genetic in origin. While RD can manifest throughout life, they frequently affect children and newborns. Common characteristics include being severe, disabling, life-threatening, degenerative and affecting different organ systems. The burden of RD is often exacerbated by a lack of specific treatments. Whilst there is etiological heterogeneity, there is overlap in cellular and molecular pathways. Amongst specialists, there is legitimate hope that based on genetic knowledge and pathway definition, a new medical classification system, currently called “precision medicine”, will be developed, which may change our view on how to apply shared therapeutic targets. Thus, collection of clinical and genetic data and biospecimens (in biobanks) will play an increasing role in diagnoses and development of therapies for RD. Biobanks are maintained collaboratively by researchers or their institutions, and involve a delicate balance between health policy objectives, academic research, public good outcomes, and community trust. Due to the nature of RD, international cooperation is critical for sharing limited numbers of RD samples and achieving a critical mass. Here we review the current and future direction of RD biobanks and discuss research and development stemming from the use of biospecimens to improve management of RD.

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