Increasing attention to individualized medicine after President Obama's State of the Union address has shined a spotlight upon the Mayo Clinic Biobank.

Mayo has asked for blood samples from thousands of volunteers.

"We expect to achieve our goal of 50,000 by the end of the year," said Stephen Thibodeau, program director of the Mayo Clinic Biorepositories Program in the Center for Individualized Medicine. "This will be great for us."

The donations, as a group, give Mayo researchers a resource unlike any available elsewhere. The 50,000 number was chosen because that will provide enough samples to effectively study relatively common diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Data from medical records and genetic information from blood samples make the samples invaluable for research studies.

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A Mayo researcher recently requested, for example, whole-exome data from 89 people who do not have Alzheimer's disease. Whole-exome studies include analysis of a person's entire genetic code.

Researchers are using the Biobank to compare the 89 people without Alzheimer's to a group of people with a specific genetic risk factor who are cognitively normal in the hopes of identifying "strong protective genetic factors against Alzheimer's disease," according to the winter issue of BioNews, a newsletter for participants and people interested in the Mayo Clinic Biobank.

The Alzheimer's study was one of those helped by the Mayo Biobank.

"We have over 130 projects, now, that have been approved," Thibodeau said. They range from a study of the accuracy of heart-disease risk scores to a screening to determine whether liver disease makes kidney stones more likely to the possibility of genetic predictors that might help alert patients if they are at higher risk for hospitalization.

For some studies, researchers may request that Biobank participants with certain medical characteristics be contacted to potentially participate in further studies.

Biobank study results can in some instances potentially help improve a patient's care. One Biobank study, for example, tests a patient's prescription-drug metabolism to determine if the person is a slow-metabolizer or fast. A fast metabolizer's use of a drug might produce a rapid effect, but the effect would be gone quicker.

When the study determines what type of metabolizer a participant is for a particular drug, that information gets entered into the participant's medical record in case it's needed during an emergency.

"You now have information that hopefully will be of some benefit if you ever have a drug that will be prescribed," Thibodeau said.

So far, the biobank has done whole-exome sequencing on samples from about 1,000 people. Why doesn't that happen for every sample?

"Financially, it's cost-prohibitive," Thibodeau said. It's been pretty expensive to do what we have done."

But Mayo decision-makers see the Biobank, and, yes, whole-exome sequencing of Biobank samples, as an investment in the future.

Mayo researchers are continuing to seek Biobank participants. Today, as they surpass 44,000 participants, they're particularly hoping for more participation among people who are in diverse age groups, especially among those who are not Caucasian. That will help make the Biobank more representative of the human population.

Next-generation whole-exome sequencing data will be "extremely valuable" to Mayo as an institution, Thibodeau said. Goals have been set to reach 10,000 whole-exome Biobank studies and, eventually, to do whole-exome sequencing on samples from all 50,000 participants.

Obama's plans to create a national biobank, by including data from biobanks across the nation has raised interest.

"I think we're very interested," Thibodeau said. "I think we're very pleased at the direction and the initiative from Pres. Obama. This is a great opportunity for us."

Mayo has been collecting biobank samples for about nine years. That has produced an expertise in topics like genetics, ethics, collection and storage techniques.

If a national biobank gets established, Thiobdeau said, Mayo Would like to be directly involved.

"We have a capability of collecting and storing up to 15 million tubes," he said.

He's hopeful the National Institutes of Health might providing funding for Mayo to increase its collection to perhaps 100,000 or 200,000 participants. Already, Mayo takes sample requests from researchers elsewhere in the country.

"Our goal for this year is that we want to be able to complete this biobank," Thibodeau said.