Ground-breaking Nordic study of colorectal cancer possible by joint biobank registry


Ground-breaking Nordic study of colorectal cancer possible by joint biobank registry

Nordic researchers are launching a pilot study on Joint Nordic Biobank Research Infrastructure, a transboundary collaboration on colorectal cancer research. Scientists within the Nordic region will be sharing information and infrastructure through a common biobank registry in order to enhance knowledge about the causes of colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer, is a public health problem in the Nordic countries. Both an individual’s genes and the environment may play a role in this disease. A patient’s prognosis brightens with early diagnosis – but advances in diagnostics require extensive research data, and there are not enough cases of colorectal cancer in any of the Nordic countries alone to conduct large-scale research at a national scale. Pooling Nordic resources in this field, however, creates a valuable opportunity to increase understanding of this dangerous disease.

BBMRI Nordic logoThe Nordic countries have been pioneers in the development of registry-based biobanks. A biobank is a systematised collection of biological material samples with associated databases used for research and in other applications.

A large, interdisciplinary network of Nordic experts will now collaborate on finding the best ways to identify the causes of colorectal cancer. The infrastructure of the Nordic countries is similar enough that biobank-based research can be implemented not only nationally, but at a large-scale Nordic level as well.

The new project will enable researchers to create a common Nordic database of standardised information. A Nordic study population will be identified, and researchers will analyse samples from the biobank and compare them with the national cancer registers and material from questionnaires in order to try to zero in on the factors, environmental as well as genetic, that lead to colorectal cancer.

The Nordic initiative BioBanking and Molecular Research Infrastructure (BBMRI Nordic) is a collaborative network between national biobanking infrastructures in the Nordic countries. Participants include in Sweden, in Finland, in Norway, Biobank Denmark, as well as researchers from Iceland – all working to achieve common results and strengthen research. The network also wishes to contribute Nordic expertise to developing the European biobank cooperation under

“The unique research infrastructure of the Nordic region can only be fully utilised if we are able to establish large-scale work procedures that maximise the Nordic countries’ biobank infrastructure and allow top research expertise to collaborate within joint, interdisciplinary projects,” says project manager Joakim Dillner, Director of

A common standard and harmonisation throughout the Nordic countries would benefit all those involved in biobank research in the years ahead.

“NordForsk is providing support for the initial phases in this unique collaborative project as part of our strategy to strengthen Nordic cooperation within research infrastructure,” says Gunnel Gustafsson, Director of NordForsk. “If good results are achieved in this way, then the same principles could be systematically applied to a number of large-scale disease studies carried out at the Nordic level. This project could help to set a new international standard for how we can best collaborate on large-scale biobank-based research.”

The pilot project begins in autumn 2011.


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Text: Lisa H. Ekli
Photo: HUNT Biobank/Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)