The clinical and genetic investigations of diseases of the Cypriot population as well as eHealth are a priority of the Smart Specialization Strategy of the Cyprus government. This strategy can best be served by creating a Centre of Excellence (CoE) with two main spear heads: a) A contemporary disease-oriented Biobank for the rare monogenic and the common multifactorial conditions and b) a state-of-the-art research facility for developing the "Cyprus Human Genome Project".
Biobanks are organized collections of biological material of all types (including whole blood, DNA/RNA, plasma, serum, urine, tissue biopsies), accompanied by detailed demographic and medical records, serving as repositories and distribution centers, aimed to support biomedical research. Cyprus, as a Low Performing Member State of the European Union, was the last country that started a Biobank, when 4 years ago the University of Cyprus received funding from the European Regional Development Fund & the Republic of Cyprus through the Cyprus Research Promotion Foundation. That was a Strategic Infrastructure Project which provided €2m for creating a seed infrastructure for genetic disease-oriented Biobanking and for research in inherited kidney diseases, at the newly established Molecular Medicine Research Center (MMRC). Recently the research group of MMRC obtained funding from the Horizon 2020 framework program for research and development (H2020-WIDESPREAD-2014-1-FPA / TEAMIΝG),for the project entitled: Biobanking and the Cyprus Human Genome Project (CY-BIOBANK).
This program is going to be realized in two stages. The proposal of the MMRC of the University of Cyprus succeeded through Stage 1, and received €460,638. The most important deliverable of Stage 1 with a duration of 12 months, is the preparation and submission of a Business Plan describing our ambitious and high standard goals for research in Cyprus.
These goals are going to be implemented if the proposal succeeds through Stage 2 (for a duration of 5-7 years). At this stage it is proposed that the existing infrastructure of MMRC is upgraded to a CoE with the assistance of Advanced Partners who led a similar operation Europe-wide. The basic long term aim of the new CoE is to create new opportunities for innovative ground-breaking research and promote Cyprus to the European Research Area. Our Advanced Partners in this effort are the Medical University of Graz, represented by Prof. Kurt Zatloukal and the Biobanking & BioMolecular Resources Research Infrastructure-European Research Infrastructure Consortium(BBMRI-ERIC), represented by its Coordinator Prof. Jan-Eric Litton, both located at Graz, Austria. A close collaborator in Cyprus is the Development Organization TALOS, headed by Dr. Alexandros Michaelides, while at the University of Cyprus there are two additional collaborators, Prof. Christos Schizas and Prof. Constantinos Pattichis, experts on issues of electronic Health (eHealth).
Briefly the goals of CY-BIOBANK for Stage 2, are the following:
1. Create the appropriate infrastructure for serving and enrolling patients and healthy volunteers who wish to participate in the Biobank and ongoing or future projects, by contributing their biological material and medical record. In Cyprus academic medicine has been recently launched and there is still limited capacity for biomedical research, clinical or otherwise. The CoE will serve the medical and academic community in several ways in the next decade and beyond. In collaboration with doctors in the private and public sector, patients will be referred to the CoE for advice, counselling and enrolment to the Biobank, upon signing an informed consent form. At MMRC we believe that every patient should be encouraged to participate in research programs concerning their condition as it is going to be to their benefit and the benefit of relatives and the wider society.
2. Create the appropriate infrastructure for genomic, bioinformatics and histological research with the aim to serve as an incubator for new ideas, not only for the medical and research community of the University of Cyprus but also for researchers of other local Universities, public or private research institutes as well as for researchers from neighbouring counties.
3. Use the Biobanking & research facility for identifying the genetic causes of rare monogenic disorders that remain unknown and also develop case-control and prospective studies, taking advantage of the unique characteristics of the Cypriot population and gene pool.In addition, the wealth of biological material and information to be archived is going to enable the investigation of common multifactorial
conditions, including diabetes, chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular conditions, several types of cancer, etc.
4. In a patient-oriented approach, MMRC aims to determine the genetic mutation load of Cypriots and generate the Cypriot 1000 whole genome project, thus completing the Genetic Map of Cyprus. Analysis of 1000 genomes will set the basis for future personalized care & diagnostics. This information will be useful to the international medical and research community while it can expand to studies concerned with healthy ageing and discovery of ageing biomarkers, twin studies etc.
5. Collaborate with the Advanced Partners in Graz, Austria, on research and educational projects of common interest. The aim of MMRC is to benefit from their know-how in preparing the most contemporary facilities for the Cyprus needs, establish effective management, and address Information Communication Technology (ICT) and Ethical, Legal and Social Issues (ELSI), thereby accomplishing safety and confidentiality that will encourage people to see this operation favourably.
In this project, in addition to the Advanced Partners and several external collaborators, several local organizations have already expressed their interest and support including the Cyprus Directorate General for European Programmes, Coordination & Development, the Ministry of Health, the Cyprus Kidney Association, the Technological University of Cyprus, the Bank of Cyprus Oncology Center, the Cyprus Alliance for Rare Disorders, and the Cyprus Federation of Associations for Patients and Friends. Also several members of the faculty at the University of Cyprus expressed their support and interest in collaborating with MMRC as they are looking forward to benefit from the success of CY-BIOBANK.