The coronavirus epidemic did not stop the work of the biobank, quite the contrary: Helsinki Biobank materials were utilized in record numbers in 2020.

Our Biobank received 105 preliminary query requests last year, more than ever before. Of these, 32 cases progressed to a sample delivery agreement, which was also more than in the previous year. Two sample delivery projects had to do with coronavirus research. We were generally actively involved in coronavirus research last year. Material deliveries never slowed down; we performed an average of two sample deliveries to researchers per week.

Data on 35,000 persons returned from the FinnGen research project

In 2020, we delivered more than 24,000 DNA-isolated samples to the FinnGen project. In all, the Helsinki Biobank has so far delivered 78,000 samples to FinnGen. Genotype data on 35,000 donors have been returned to the Biobank, and these data will be utilized in further research.

The FinnGen project proceeded successfully, and the cooperation agreement for its second three-year period was signed by Finnish biobanks, hospital districts, the University of Helsinki and 11 international pharmaceutical companies. In addition to FinnGen, we signed sample delivery agreements with seven corporate research projects. Corporate interest in biobank data gratifyingly began to translate from queries to actions last year, and this trend seems set to continue.

In addition to FinnGen, we delivered a record number of tissue samples (more than 11,000) from the Helsinki Biobank to researchers in 2020. At the same time, the Helsinki Biobank continued its active development of material refinement processes. For instance, we are now able to provide PBMC isolation as a service for our researcher customers.

Developing data analytics for demanding customer projects

In 2020, we developed data analytics for demanding customer projects, using tools such as text mining methods. The materials and tools of the HUS data pool were actively accessed by the Biobank, because nearly all sample requests submitted to the Biobank require cohort formation following complex medical criteria.

All sample queries are routed through the FinGenious portal maintained by the FinBB biobank cooperative, which is further developing the portal in collaboration with its member biobanks. We also routinely add our material availability details to the catalog in the FinGenious service.

Further use of genome data

R&D at the Biobank focused on further use of the genome data returned to us, on the use of pathology archive samples in genome analyses and on collaboration projects to develop diagnostics for rare diseases using data mining and biobank samples.

A project was launched with the HUS Genetics Unit and the Comprehensive Cancer Center to explore how data returned from FinnGen research to the Biobank could be used to identify genes associated with susceptibility to cancer, to confirm findings and to send this information to the sample donors. The Helsinki Biobank also contributed to coronavirus research and built a database designed to identify the particular characteristics of the 100 most common diseases diagnosed at HUS.

Collection of consents and samples decreased

The collection of biobank consents and samples in the operating area of the Helsinki Biobank was sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic and by the deployment of the Apotti system. We received an increasing number of electronic consents, and we improved our processing of consents so that an electronic consent will automatically generate a laboratory referral. We also added biobank functions to the Maisa patient portal and to the Apotti system.

We organized publicity campaigns on TV and radio in the spring and autumn. The national Annatko luvan [Do you give permission?] campaign in the spring prompted a particularly good response, with an avalanche of electronic consents. Nevertheless, the number of new biobank samples last year remained under 30,000, slightly under the figure for 2019. Incorporating the collection of biobank consents and samples into the medical care service process remains a major challenge for the Biobank.

Helsinki Biobank’s cumulative sample accrual (B-Bio-0) 2015–2020

Helsinki Biobank’s cumulative sample accrual