January 8, 2010

BioVU’s data riches a boon for discovery

BioVU’s data riches a boon for discovery

More than five years in development, Vanderbilt University's DNA databank, called BioVU, is now open for business.

Late last month Vanderbilt researchers gained access to one of the largest repositories of its kind to conduct genetic studies of human disease and drug response.

“This is a resource for discovery,” Dan Roden, M.D., assistant vice chancellor for Personalized Medicine, told researchers during a BioVU “launch session” last month. “The next step is to actually use this information in the care of patients.”

Genetic variations can increase the risk of developing certain diseases. They also explain why certain medications don't work in some patients and can cause serious, sometimes life-threatening effects in others.

Finding these associations requires sophisticated genetic studies. That's why BioVU and the computer-driven technologies developed by Vanderbilt's Department of Biomedical Informatics are so powerful — they combine the twin scientific revolutions in genomics and informatics.

In 2007, BioVU began extracting DNA from blood samples of adult patients at Vanderbilt that otherwise would be discarded. To date it has acquired nearly 75,000 DNA samples, linked to their matching electronic medical records.

Both the samples and the records are “de-identified,” meaning that all personal information has been stripped away to guarantee patients' anonymity. BioVU will begin receiving samples from pediatric patients later this year, and ultimately it will contain biological samples from 250,000 individuals.

Only Vanderbilt researchers can apply as principal investigators to use BioVU, although their collaborators can be from other centers. To apply, log on to www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/starbrite/biovu.

Researchers must agree not to try to re-identify patients and to notify BioVU if they come across information that could potentially reveal the identity of a patient. Researchers also can apply for funding for their project from the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (VICTR).

For more information, contact BioVU program manager Erica Bowton at erica.bowton@vanderbilt.edu or 322-1975.

BioVU is carefully reviewed to ensure it meets ethical standards for research. The “consent-to-treat” form for Vanderbilt patients includes a box that allows them to “opt out” of the databank. So far only about 5 percent of patients have done so, Roden said.

As of late December, two research applications had been approved by Vanderbilt's Institutional Review Board (IRB).

One of the projects, Vanderbilt Electronic Systems for Pharmacogenomic Assessment (VESPA), will test whether variations in patients' DNA could have predicted their responses to certain medications. If so, genetic information embedded in the electronic medical record could help improve treatment outcomes and avoid adverse drug effects.

This kind of personalized medicine will be achieved “in a place that has excellence in translational science and informatics,” said Roden, who is leading the VESPA project with Dan Masys, M.D., chair of Biomedical Informatics.

“It'll involve engaging patients and engaging the community … and it'll involve an institution that really sees this as their future,” he added. “Our leadership at the very top … (has) really been committed to this.”