The Trinity St James’s Barrett’s Oesophagus Biobank

My name is Cian Gargan and I am the Barrett’s oesophagus biobank manager in the Trinity Translational Medicine Institute (TTMI). I started my position here in April 2023 and my role is to find and recruit suitable patients with Barrett’s oesophagus in St James’s Hospital to our research program. After completing my undergraduate degree in biochemistry, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in research but with a clinical perspective. I really enjoy my job as it allows me to meet patients, work as part of a clinical team and be involved with lab-based research. It is rewarding to know that as I recruit more patients to our research program, more research can be carried out that will help us better understand Barrett’s and its possible progression to oesophageal cancer. This may lead to discoveries that will allow for the development of new treatments for Barrett’s in the future.

Barrett’s oesophagus is a disorder of the lower oesophagus where cells become abnormal and begin to behave like cells which are normally found in the intestines. This is known as intestinal metaplasia and is primarily caused by acid reflux affecting these cells over a long period of time. Symptoms of Barrett’s oesophagus include frequent and longstanding heartburn, difficulty swallowing, and a sensation of food stuck in your oesophagus. Barrett’s is usually diagnosed through an endoscopy (camera test) where samples of the oesophagus are taken and then later analysed in a laboratory. Individuals suffering from Barrett’s oesophagus can usually have their symptoms managed using medication prescribed by their doctor. Most people with Barrett’s oesophagus will not go on to develop oesophageal cancer, as the risk of progression is less than 1% per year but they are still recommended to have routine camera tests every few years. This is to check for any changes in the Barrett’s tissue that indicate oesophageal cancer is likely to develop.

A biobank is a large collection of biological samples and healthcare information. The samples donated by patients in our biobank are stored in ultra-low temperature -80˚C freezers to be used by researchers at a later date. The Trinity St James’s Barrett’s oesophagus biobank is now over 10 years old and the largest Barrett’s biobank in Ireland which contains thousands of patient samples used in translational research. I recruit eligible patients with medically confirmed Barrett’s in St James’s Hospital who are booked in during their routine surveillance camera test. On the day of their visit, I meet each eligible patient, explain to them our research program, and give them the option to donate two small vials of blood, as well as biopsies taken from their Barrett’s tissue. 

The donation of blood and tissue biopsies is completely optional and each patient has the right to change their mind at a later date. If that is the case, the bloods and tissue samples will be removed from the biobank and discarded. Each patient will also have their samples anonymised to the researchers to ensure their privacy.

If a patient is happy to take part, a note will be made on their chart, the nurses will take blood samples and the endoscopist will take additional biopsies for research. These samples will then be transported to the Trinity Translational Medicine Institute (TTMI). The research biopsies will either be used straight away by our researchers or I will store them in the biobank along with the processed blood samples for future use. The Barrett’s biobank is an important tool for researchers at Trinity College Dublin. As it grows we have more and more samples at our disposal to facilitate Barrett’s research. Multiple patients have donated several samples over many years which allows researchers to compare these samples to understand the development of Barrett’s over time. Since its inception, many discoveries have been made and published using samples from the Barrett’s biobank and multiple research projects are currently ongoing.




About the Author: Cian Gargan is the Barrett’s oesophagus biobank manager in the Trinity Translational Medicine Institute and St James’s Hospital.