CU-Med Biobank Positions Hong Kong a Biomedical Research Hub in China’s Greater Bay Area

CU-Med Biobank Positions Hong Kong a Biomedical Research Hub in China's Greater Bay Area
The photo shows members of the CU-Med Biobank, including (from the 3rd from left) Professor To Ka-fai and Professor Ronald Ma, Co-Heads of the Executive Committee of CU-Med Biobank; Professor Francis Chan, Dean of Medicine and Head of the Steering Committee of CU-Med Biobank; and Dr Terry Or, Scientific Officer of CU-Med Biobank (Photo credit: The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
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The Faculty of Medicine at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), known as CU Medicine, has achieved a significant milestone by creating a globally accredited biobank. The CU-Med Biobank‘s establishment is poised to play a pivotal role in propelling biomedicine advancements within the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. Furthermore, it is set to position Hong Kong as a prominent biomedical research hub in the region.

In 2019, the biobank was established at the Prince of Wales Hospital. Through years of unwavering commitment, CU Medicine has achieved a significant milestone by attaining international accreditation [ISO 20387:2018(en)] from A2LA, recognizing its exceptional standards. Alongside a biobank in South Korea, this is one of just two biobanks in the Asia-Pacific region that meet the necessary global standards. This accreditation serves as a testament to Hong Kong’s capability to emerge as a distinguished drug research and development hub within the Greater Bay Area.

Possessions of a globally Accredited Biobank can Expedite Research and Advancement of Novel Drugs

In order to create novel medications or lead the way in innovative diagnostic technologies, both software and hardware are necessary, and one prerequisite is possessing of a biobank. A biobank serves as a vital facility for the organized preservation of clinical data and bio-specimens. It is not just a repository to store samples; it also incorporates a comprehensive set of rigorous management protocols for handling various biological specimens and conducting accurate multi-omics analysis.

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Professor Francis Chan, Dean of Medicine and Head of the Steering Committee of CU-Med Biobank at CU Medicine, said, “The standard of biobanking determines not only the quality of academic research but also the potential capability for new drug development. The threshold for becoming an internationally accredited biobank is very high; our achievement can help attract collaborations from top global scientific research teams and multinational pharmaceutical companies. This international accreditation will provide CU Medicine with valuable credibility that will allow us to work with the Hospital Authority and transform Hong Kong into the hub for research and new drug development in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.”

Professor Ronald Ma, Co-Head of the Executive Committee of CU-Med Biobank, and Professor at the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics at CU Medicine, said, “Genomic research has rapidly developed over the past two decades due to the emerging trend of precision medicine and personalised medicine. A biobank is therefore considered a precious asset for humans because it not only stores a vast amount of genetic data, but also biospecimens with the potential to generate a variety of other biomarker information, and therefore great potential to advance medical research.”

The international accreditation process is rigorous that required almost six years to attain from preparation

From the outset of its biobank establishment, CU Medicine has strived to meet global benchmarks. Following five years of rigorous efforts in setting up, operating, and preparing the system, accompanied by an extensive review process spanning over four months, the team has achieved the prestigious ISO 20387:2018(en) accreditation this year.

Dr Terry Or, Scientific Officer of CU-Med Biobank, explained, “The CU-Med Biobank has strictly adhered to regulations in four major areas: sample acquisition, processing, storage, and distribution, and from there we attained the international accreditation. This qualification will help promote large-scale international research cooperation, attract local, mainland and overseas scientific research teams and pharmaceutical research institutions to collaborate, and thus enhance the efficiency and level of biomedical research.”

“CU-Med Biobank has a set of strict management systems for handling diverse biological samples and precise multi-omics analysis. The team will continuously review and upgrade its facility and workflow to optimise the operation.” Terry added.

The promising prospects of the CU-Med Biobank seen in breast cancer, diabetes, and gut microbiome research

Over the recent years, several research groups at CU Medicine have begun utilizing the resources of CU-Med Biobank for extensive genomic investigations, particularly in breast cancer studies. Among these teams, one has successfully established a Breast Cancer Biobank using the CU-Med BioBank platform. This biobank is designed to accommodate a vast collection of tens of thousands of biological samples, as well as histology, genetic, and multi-omics data.

Professor To Ka-fai, Co-Head of the Executive Committee of CU-Med Biobank, and Chairman of the Department of Anatomical and Cellular Pathology at CU Medicine said, “Breast cancer ranks first among all cancer types affecting women in Hong Kong. The establishment of a Breast Cancer Biobank can facilitate large-scale multi-omics analysis, comprehensive research on the long-term therapeutic effects of breast cancer treatment, and screening of effective prognostic markers and predictive markers. The abundant sample resources can also aid drug development.”

Over the past ten years, the CU Medicine diabetes team has achieved significant success in genomic research through the establishment of the Hong Kong Diabetes Biobank. With their vast expertise, they have effectively pinpointed several genetic and biological markers associated with diabetes and its complications. These groundbreaking discoveries offer valuable insights, enabling the identification of individuals susceptible to developing diabetes and those with existing diabetes who face an elevated risk of kidney or cardiovascular disease.

Since 2019, the Microbiota I-Centre of CU Medicine has created the world’s largest 100k mother-infant cohort, elevating Hong Kong’s status to a prominent hub in the emerging microbiota industry within the Asia-Pacific region.