Covid-19 – a national research biobank is urgently needed

 

Sir, – As the chief academic officers of the seven Irish hospital groups and their respective universities, our primary mission is to ensure that the people of Ireland get the best academic healthcare possible so that it meets, or surpasses, international best practice.

Such excellence in modern clinical practice cannot be provided except in the context of discovery-focused translational research.

The very essence of this “translational research” is a two-way path between the patient and the laboratory.

In order to conduct such high-impact research, it is vital that we have the investigators to straddle the arenas of clinical practice and scientific research – which we do, but we also need the appropriate laboratory infrastructure and, in particular, a national research biobank to enable such research activities.

As is typical of all pandemics, a second wave of Covid-19 will happen and its negative consequences to our healthcare system and national economy may be even more damaging than the first wave.

This time round we need to be prepared to provide support to our clinician researchers so they can distinguish asymptomatic carriers from the severely affected, and also those more likely to mount a meaningful immune response, and those survivors of severe Covid-19 who will develop chronic complications, as well as finding a cure.

This will allow the doctors to direct scare resources, intensive-care beds and novel antiviral agents to those most at need.

In order to do this, we need data, and lots of it.

Moreover, we will need to be able to test and validate any new antibody or other Covid-19 tests on an Irish population.

The development of a Covid-19 national research biobank would be an important driver in helping us achieve these goals.

We fully recognise the establishment of an Irish research biobank to facilitate research on human samples for health research will represent a major national endeavour and pose numerous challenges, such as keeping the highest scientific standards and maintenance of privacy protection.

That said, to date, 20 countries across the EU have been successful in doing just that and creating the BBMRI-ERIC (Biobanking and BioMolecular Resources Research Infrastructure – European Research Infrastructure Consortium), the world largest network of biorepository of human samples that connects 600 biobanks across these 20 European states.

It is high time that Ireland establishes its own biobanking policy and procedures. – Yours, etc,

Prof PAUL BURKE,

University of Limerick

Hospital Group,

University of Limerick;

Prof TIM LYNCH,

Ireland East Hospital Group,

University College Dublin;

Prof ANTHONY O’REGAN,

Saolta University

Healthcare Group;

Prof OWEN SMITH,

Children’s Health Ireland,

University College Dublin;

Prof HELEN WHELTON,

South Southwest Group,

University College Cork;

Prof JOE KEANE,

St James’s Hospital,

Trinity College Dublin;

Prof PADDY BROE,

Royal College

of Surgeons

in Ireland Group,

Dublin 2.