Barrett's Biobanking and registry

Written by: Rebecca Anderson



Barrett’s oesophagus is a pre-cancerous condition which involves the development of abnormal cells in the lower oesophagus. This is understood to be caused by persistent acid reflux over a long period of time. The main symptoms of Barrett’s oesophagus are acid reflux and indigestion, and the condition is diagnosed by an endoscopy (a camera test) and histological examination of small biopsies (cell samples) taken during this test by a scientist in the laboratory. Thankfully, less than 1% of people who have Barrett’s oesophagus go on to develop cancer, but it remains important that we monitor patients with Barrett’s for progression of their symptoms, and work to understand better the connection between Barrett’s oesophagus and oesophageal cancer development.

A biobank is a large collection of biological samples and their accompanying medical information which can be used by scientists to do research. The Barrett’s biobank is a collection of tissue samples, blood samples and gastric juice samples from patients with Barrett’s oesophagus who have agreed to be involved in research into the condition. These samples are taken during the patient’s routine surveillance camera tests and are stored in the trinity translational medicine institute in St James’s hospital Dublin until they are needed for research. The Barrett’s biobank is an incredibly important resource for scientists interested in the condition, and allows them to ask questions about how Barrett’s oesophagus develops, and why some patients progress to cancer while others don’t. The power of a biobank is in its size. The more samples involved in asking a research question the more robust the results of experiments are, and we are very grateful to the patients who allow us use their samples.

As well as the Barrett’s Biobank, which allows scientists do laboratory research on the condition, we also maintain the Barrett’s registry, which contains the pertinent medical information of patients diagnosed with Barrett’s oesophagus. The registry is a national effort managed from St James’s hospital in Dublin, and involves hospitals from all over the country. We can use the registry to run audits, which allow us to ensure patients with diagnosed Barrett’s oesophagus are being monitored, and are having regular surveillance endoscopies. We can also use audits to track trends in the diagnosis of Barrett’s oesophagus in Ireland as well as in progression of the condition more generally.

The biobank and registry are powerful tools which allow us to better understand the condition of Barrett’s oesophagus and our patients. The overarching aim of the Barrett’s oesophagus biobank and registry is to improve patient care, whether through laboratory research using biobanked samples or careful monitoring of the condition through registry audit.


About the Author: Rebecca Anderson is the Barrett's Oesophagus Data and Biobank Manager in Beaumont Hospital. Her project in POI is co-funded by the Oesophageal Cancer Fund.