UCC biobank to help improve health of mothers and babies

A new biobank at University College Cork will play a leading role in improving future health outcomes for mothers and babies.

It will help centres such as Infant (The Irish Centre for Fetal and Neonatal Translation Research), based in UCC; and Cork University Maternity Hospital to biobank human biological samples and data.

Infant is involved in a wide range of studies into conditions such as pre-eclampsia, pre-term birth, and foetal growth restriction.

The centre and other biobanking researchers throughout the world have developed a burgeoning and rapidly expanding the collection of samples.

The biobank will allow Infant to expand its holdings and to surpass existing international best practice guidelines. Crucially, it will position both the college and the centre at the forefront of biobanking internationally.

The biobank was awarded €355,000 to expand as part of the Science Foundation Ireland infrastructure awards, with supplementary funds from UCC.

Infant director, Prof Louise Kenny, said the samples could hold the key to medical problems that have affected pregnant women and their babies for centuries.

“The Infant centre is unique as it is located in the Cork University Maternity Hospital, where fantastic patients readily donate their samples and data for research,” said Prof Kenny.

“Biobanks like this allow us to explore large amounts of data and use the results to reduce and eventually prevent life-threatening complications in pregnancy and early life: that is what we are working towards, saving the lives of mothers and their babies.”

Prof Kenny, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the maternity hospital, is leading ground-breaking work on preeclampsia, a life-threatening complication of late pregnancy.

A critical phase of the Scope (Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints) research will be combining clinical information and pregnancy specific biomarkers to develop the most effective system for predicting problems in pregnancy.

It is hoped that mother and babies will benefit from a new screening test within the next five or 10 years.

Infant’s quality and regulatory manager, Emma Snapes, said the biobank will help them to do a much better job of protecting precious samples for research aimed at improving perinatal outcomes.

“There is excellent care taken of the samples. They are stored at really, really low temperatures, -80C and below.”

Asked about the capacity of the facility, Ms Snapes said it depended on the size of the sample, but it is capable of holding between two and four million samples.

“We have moved to a much smaller footprint for size sample. We have tripled the capacity of our freezers and using that very tiny footprint, we could hold up to four million samples.”


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