Patients with the same illness often receive the same treatment, even if the cause of the illness is different for each person. This represents a new step towards ultimately being able to offer every patient more personalized treatment.
Six Dutch universities are combining forces to chart the different disease processes for a range of common conditions. This represents a new step towards ultimately being able to offer every patient more personalized treatment. The results of this study have been published in two articles in the authoritative scientific journal Nature Genetics.
The success of this research is the result of the decision taken six years ago by biobanks throughout the Netherlands to share data and biomaterials within the BBMRI consortium. This decision meant it became possible to gather, store and analyze data from blood samples of a very large number of volunteers. The present study illustrates the tremendous value of large-scale collaboration in the field of medical research in the Netherlands.
Heijmans (LUMC), research leader in Leiden and initiator of the partnership: “The Netherlands is leading the field in sharing molecular data. This enables researchers to carry out the kind of large-scale studies that are needed to gain a better understanding of the causes of diseases. This result is only just the beginning: once they have undergone a screening, other researchers with a good scientific idea will be given access to this enormous bank of anonymized data. Our Dutch ‘polder mentality’ is also advancing science.”
Mapping the various molecular causes for a disease is the first step towards a form of medical treatment that better matches the disease process of individual patients. To reach that ideal, however, we still have a long way to go. The large-scale molecular data that have been collected for this research are the cornerstone of even bigger partnerships, such as the national Health-RI initiative. The third research leader, Peter-Bram ’t Hoen (LUMC), says: “Large quantities of data should eventually make it possible to give everyone personalized health advice, and to determine the best treatment for each individual patient.”
The research has been made possible thanks to the cooperation within the BBMRI biobank consortium of six long-running Dutch population studies carried out by the university medical centres in Groningen (LifeLines), Leiden (Leiden Longevity Study), Maastricht (CODAM Study), Rotterdam (Rotterdam Study), Utrecht (Netherlands Prospective ALS Study) and by the Vrije Universiteit (Netherlands Twin Register). The molecular data were generated in a standardized fashion at a central site (Human Genomics Facility HuGE-F, ErasmusMC) and subsequently securely stored and analyzed at a second central site (SURFSara). The study links in with the Personalised Medicine route of the National Research Agenda and the Health-RI and M3 proposals on the large-scale research infrastructure agenda of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).
1. Bonder, Marc Jan, René Luijk, Daria Zhernakova, Matthijs Moed, Patrick Deelen, Martijn Vermaat, Maarten van Iterson et al. “Disease variants alter transcription factor levels and methylation of their binding sites.”
bioRxiv (2015): 033084. Nature Genetics 2016.
2. Zhernakova, Daria V, Patrick Deelen, Martijn Vermaat, Maarten van Iterson, Michiel van Galen, Wibowo Arindrarto et al. “Identification of context-dependent expression quantitative trait loci in whole blood”. Nature Genetics 2016.
Adapted from press release by Leiden University.