National A3BC biobank begins to take shape

An ambitious project to build a national biobank for rheumatic and musculoskeletal conditions is well underway and hitting many of its milestones, according to its project leaders.

The Australian Arthritis and Autoimmune Biobank Collaborative (A3BC) project is aiming to build on the success of the Australian Rheumatology Association Database (ARAD) to create a wider network of data based on biospecimens, according to its founders rheumatologist Professor Lyn March and paediatric rheumatologist Associate Professor Jane Munro.

Speaking at a Big Data forum at the ARA 2018 conference in Melbourne, the co-founders said the A3BC was on track to have eight national biobanking nodes in different states. The project already has 27 national principal investigators and 40 public and private hospital recruitment sites.

As well as biospecimen data, the project will build a national collaborative open-access network linking up data sources such as the MBS, PBS, death and cancer registries, longitudinal studies and electronic medical records.

The ultimate aim is to create a much larger network of data sources on which to build understanding of musculoskeletal conditions and help enable personalised medicine, said Professor March.

“Things are moving very rapidly and in the arthritis space there’s emerging evidence relating the microbiome and rheumatoid arthritis – not just levels of severity related to the microbiome but also whether you will respond to treatment such as checkpoint inhibitors – and we’re certainly going to be looking into that,” she said.

The initial scope of the A3BC research will cover rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, and with other diseases such as, vasculitis , sclerodoma and osteoporosis to be included as the project progresses.

“We’re hoping that we can move from the silo mentality of the very impressive disease-specific projects around Australia to a much larger, open access network across Australia for multiple diseases where we are sharing and learning from each other’s science,” said Professor March.

She said the project was overcoming ethical committee concerns about privacy and data sharing because it had widespread support from patients who wanted better data on how their disease could be managed.

“It’s about profit for the patients, precision medicine, about giving the right drug to the right patient at the right time. And patients do want to know – they don’t want to take the drug that doesn’t work and A3BC is the solution,” she said.

Co-founder Jane Munro said the project was very much based on collaboration, and would focus on providing real-time benefits that could be used by rheumatologists while providing clinical care.

“It will have a great dashboard for clinicians so rheumatologists will be able to get feedback on things like a person’s time to remission on methotrexate and then also be able to compare that to anonymised data for everyone else in Australia,” she said.

The biobank and data collection would be streamlined with concepts such as e-consent and the use of tablets by patients to obtain patient-reported outcomes that could be used immediately, she added.

Biospecimen collections will include blood, synovial tissue and fluid, stool samples, saliva and newborn screening cards. Professor Munro envisaged an infrastructure system of open centres in which patients could drop in to donate biospecimens rather than having staff at specific clinics.

Ultimately, the project would have huge potential for improving individual healthcare by identifying risk factors, biomarkers and improving diagnostic classifications, she said.

The project was also attractive to government, hospitals and researchers for its potential to improve health policy and practice, she added.


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