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University builds biobank to study impact of environment on people

New labs and a biobank for the storage of environmental and human samples at Masaryk University campus will be finished in 2020.

The core of the new facility will be located underground between the RECETOX and INBIT buildings in the north of the campus.

The Research Centre for Toxic Compounds in the Environment (RECETOX) began the construction of new labs and a biobank for the storage of environmental and human samples. The facility, which will become part of the campus in Bohunice, will enable comprehensive research on the impact of the environment on people and determine its role in the development of chronic diseases, which are becoming increasingly more common.

The construction of the biobank, together with the necessary equipment, will cost around 200 million Czech crowns and is funded by the EU Operational Programme Research, Development and Education. The core of the new facility, which will be finished in 2020, will be located underground between the RECETOX and INBIT buildings in the north of the campus.

The construction of the new facility follows the long-term study of pregnancy and childhood in the CELSPAC project, which studied the development of thousands of children from the Brno and Znojmo regions born in 1991. This population study included data on the children’s health as well as socioeconomic data on their families and a wealth of other information. The researchers now intend expanding the available data to include biological information. This can be used to understand how toxic substances accumulate in the body and what actually influences the development of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune diseases.

“In the coming years, we would like to ask the participants in the original study to undergo new tests and to have their biological samples taken,” says RECETOX director Jana Klánová. “We began to put together a new group of children and families from Brno several years ago for long-term monitoring so that we can test how they cope with exposure to various substances in the environment. We need an advanced high-capacity biobank to store and study all those samples.”

The anonymised samples require high-quality storage, error-free labelling, and robotic handling to avoid any human error. One of the phenomena that will be studied in the new labs is the microbiome – the community of microorganisms naturally found in human skin, mucous membranes, the oral cavity, and intestines, all of which can affect the body’s immune response.

The facility will also include modern exam rooms, which will be used for examining the volunteers participating in the study and for taking samples of saliva and blood. The data from large population studies will not be used exclusively by RECETOX researchers but will be available to the whole of Masaryk University and other research institutions.

As Klánová emphasises, “The samples and data can provide us with information on the impact of chemical substances on the health of our volunteers, while other experts can study the impact of mental stress and lifestyle. This is actually one of the reasons why the biobank and studies of large groups of people are so valuable – they open up a wealth of opportunities for collaboration among different disciplines.”

Moreover, RECETOX participates in the European project Human Biomonitoring for Europe, which makes it possible to compare data collected on the populations of different countries and to use it in healthcare policies.

The centre has celebrated its 35th anniversary this year and covers a wide range of basic and applied research focusing on toxic substances in the environment and their impact on people. The centre provides information on the exposure of living organisms, including humans, to complex combinations of chemicals present in the internal and the external environment, water, food, and products, and on its impact on human health and various ecosystems. It develops new ways of integrating data and makes the data available for innovative and informed decision-making at all levels.