Biobank to boost bioresearch

J.M.R. Barker Foundation donates $2.5 million for biobank to study multiple diseases

biobankA $2.5 million gift from the J.M.R. Barker Foundation will allow UT Health San Antonio to establish a centralized biobank that will accelerate the pace of biomedical research in key research areas including cancer, Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative diseases, heart disease, aging and more. 

The biobank will strengthen critical research platforms and advance the ability to provide patients with improved diagnosis and treatment through enhanced understanding of conditions that affect the health of this region and the nation. The biobank is part of a comprehensive UT System effort that includes six UT System institutions in support of a federal biobank infrastructure of resources and best practices to collect bio-specimens linked to the medical records of each donor. 

UT Health San Antonio President William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, said the centralized biobank will allow for increased focus on collecting, processing and analyzing specimens from patients affected by diseases that disproportionately affect the South Texas population, with special emphasis on Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.  

“In the United States, the majority of clinical trials and medical research has been conducted on non-Hispanic Caucasians, and evidence is showing that many discoveries and resulting treatments may not be relevant to other populations,” Dr. Henrich said. “San Antonio’s patient base is 63 percent Hispanic—a population that is significantly underrepresented nationally in biomedical research and clinical trials.”

Sudha Seshadri, M.D., director of the university’s Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases, said plans for the biobank include a repository specifically for brain specimens.

“This brain bank will provide essential resources for our neuroscience researchers and faculty at the Biggs Institute as they seek to understand how the brain functions,” Dr. Seshadri said. “It also will create additional avenues for collaborative research on a national level in Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative diseases. In addition, the brain bank will support our efforts in applying for highly competitive and significant national funding to become a comprehensive and nationally recognized center specializing in Alzheimer’s research.” 

Andrea Giuffrida, Ph.D., vice president for research, said the biobank will have a profound impact on research being conducted at the university’s nationally recognized Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies. The institute is the only aging research center in the country to achieve the distinction of having both a Nathan Shock Center of Excellence and a Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, through two National Institute on Aging grants.

“Maintaining these prestigious designations at the Barshop Institute is a top priority for our university,” Dr. Giuffrida said. “The biobank will facilitate translational studies and extend observations made in animal models to elucidate relevant determinants of human diseases that require the availability of human tissue samples.”

Ruben Mesa, M.D., director of the Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center, said the biobank also will impact research at the university’s National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center.  

“The biorepository will have a unique emphasis on tumor specimens from cancers that disproportionately occur in Hispanics in South Texas,” Dr. Mesa said. “Our tumor collections will serve investigators at the [Mays Cancer Center] and the university’s Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute with its special focus on addressing the unique challenges of childhood cancer.”

Dr. Henrich said UT Health San Antonio is grateful for the generosity and support shown by Ben Barker, Ph.D., and the Barker Foundation. 

“This is an exciting time in biomedical research when a confluence of events is multiplying possibilities for new breakthroughs in medicine in many areas of health,” Dr. Henrich said. “The foundation’s support is playing a critical role in advancing a strategic initiative that will allow us to significantly contribute to advancing science that will impact researchers worldwide.”

Dr. Barker serves on the Development Board of UT Health San Antonio and on the board of the J.M.R. Barker Foundation. His father, Robert R. Barker, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and is the namesake of the Robert R. Barker Distinguished University Chair for the Director of the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases. The endowment is held by Dr. Seshadri, who was recruited from Boston University to serve as the inaugural director of the Biggs Institute. 

Robert R. Barker founded the J.M.R. Barker Foundation to honor his father. The Barker Foundation provided the lead gift to launch the Biggs Institute.

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