Dr. Henrich: Accelerating the pace of biomedical research

William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP
William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP

Better understanding the diseases that most affect our region and nation will enable us to provide patients with improved diagnosis and treatment.

With that goal in mind, UT Health San Antonio will strengthen critical research platforms and accelerate the pace of biomedical research through the creation of a centralized biobank.

The biobank, made possible by a $2.5 million gift from the J.M.R. Barker Foundation, is part of a comprehensive UT System effort to support a federal biobank infrastructure of resources, along with best practices, to collect bio-specimens linked to the medical records of each donor.

It is essential to have a bio-repository that reflects the region’s unique population. In the United States, the majority of clinical trials and medical research has been conducted on non-Hispanic Caucasians, and evidence shows that many discoveries and resulting treatments may not be relevant to other populations. San Antonio’s patient base is 63 percent Hispanic—a population that is significantly underrepresented nationally in biomedical research and clinical trials.

The centralized biobank will allow for increased focus on collecting, processing and analyzing specimens from patients with diseases that disproportionately affect the South Texas population, with special emphasis on Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Plans for the biobank include a repository specifically for brain specimens, providing essential resources for neuroscience researchers and faculty as they seek to understand how the brain functions. It also will create additional avenues for collaborative research on a national level in Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative diseases.

The biobank will have a profound impact on research being conducted at our nationally recognized Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, as well. The institute is the only aging research center in the country to achieve the distinction of having both a Nathan Shock Center of Excellence and a Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, through two National Institute on Aging grants.

Maintaining these prestigious designations at the Barshop Institute is a top priority for our university, and the biobank will play a vital role as it facilitates translational studies and extends observations made in animal models to elucidate relevant determinants of human diseases that require the availability of human tissue samples.

In the area of cancer research, the biorepository will have an emphasis on tumor specimens from cancers that disproportionately occur in Hispanics in South Texas. This will not only impact research at our National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center, but will also support investigators at the university’s Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute, with its special focus on addressing the unique challenges of childhood cancer.

It is only through relentless efforts to achieve enhanced understanding of the biology of the world’s most complex diseases that we will eventually find ways to prevent them or eradicate them. This biobank will help us do just that.

This is an exciting time in biomedical research, when a confluence of events is multiplying possibilities for new breakthroughs in medicine. The Barker Foundation’s support is critical in advancing a strategic initiative that will allow us to significantly contribute to scientific knowledge that will impact researchers worldwide.

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