The Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (HUNT) Biobank in Norway is one of the largest population-based health studies ever performed. Initiated to support epidemiological, clinical, and preventive medical research, HUNT Biobank provides insight into disease status and progression, particularly in relation to quality-of-life measures such as environment, education, and occupation.
Receiving an enormous volume of 5,000 samples per week, HUNT Biobank needed a data-management solution capable of delivering speed, efficiency, and simplicity in a single system. It was important that the system could interface with the laboratory’s existing robotics, import files from the hospital laboratory, return results, and generate a feedback document for every participant.
The system was also required to provide clinical follow-up, data handling, and quality control following data collection, and then distribute coded data files to various research groups (Figure 1).
Another major medical research initiative, the UK Biobank in Manchester, England, stores answers to 200 lifestyle and medical questions and a total of up to 15 million individual blood and urine sample aliquots from 500,000 people. Additional follow-up questions will be asked over the next 20–30 years, providing researchers with the information they need to study the progression of illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.
UK Biobank needed a data-management system to track samples and their associated data. For each aliquot, the system had to store its parent, grandparent, rack bar code ID, rack position, store rack location, and aliquot contents (Figure 2).
In total, UK Biobank needed to obtain several hundred million data points within the underlying database. To appropriately archive the vast amount of data generated by UK Biobank, the solution needed to be part of an automated system that received samples, fractioned them into appropriate vessels for testing, analysis, and storage, and then tracked and stored all data relative to the sample. The system also needed to provide daily updates and management reports.