Monday, April 7, 2008

Racing for the Biobank

Here in Indianapolis the city is preparing for one of the biggest annual gathering of runners in the region. On April 19th thousands of runners and walkers will converge on the Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI) campus for the The 2008 Komen Indianapolis Race for the Cure. While there will be plenty of people milling around after the 5k race and walk, many of the participants will also donate DNA and blood to a predictive health research study. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank at the IU Simon Cancer Center will collect blood samples for the biobank from both women with and without a high risk for breast cancer. In a press release from the Indiana University School of Medicine, Dr. Susan Clare, a co-principal investigator of the tissue bank, notes that:

Collecting blood from women who have not had breast cancer provides an opportunity for these donors to give a unique gift to science …. Even though these donors will not benefit directly from their donation of blood, they are providing an invaluable resource to enable research that will benefit generations to come.

The upbeat tone in this quotation is nurtured by more than a keen eye for good public relations—past tissue bank drives at the race have been a wild success. So, is this a good way to build a predictive health biobank? Would similar outreach methods work for other diseases? How about a 5k race to cure for diabetes or schizophrenia? Would runners turn out in equal numbers? Would participants be as willing to donate after the race? Undoubtedly the organizers of this tissue bank and the Komen Race for the Cure have done an excellent job of advocating for this research, but is there something about breast cancer or about our culture that might (perhaps disproportionately) encourage potential research participants to join the cause?

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