When combined with new genetic and molecular technologies, archives of data and biological tissue from radiation experiments carried out up to 60 years ago could provide new insights into the impact of radiation exposure on a person’s health.
During the course of our lives, each one of us, some more than others, are exposed to ionizing radiation and their associated dangers. It is clear that people involved in nuclear disasters such as the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power station are at high risk of suffering from tissue damage and resulting diseases. Less is known about the effects of repeated low doses of radiation widely used in diagnostic medicine, industry and research. There is little evidence from radiobiological experiments and data from epidemiological studies of populations are often difficult to interpret.
Recent technological developments in genetic and molecular analysis have provided new opportunities to quantify radiation exposure at the individual level. This has led to an explosion in data generation and a need to facilitate the exchange of information. In addition, amazing archive collections of tissue samples from animal radiation experiments performed between 1950 and 1990 were discovered, which provide a comprehensive source of material to reanalyse particularly the effect of repeated low dose radiation exposure on tissues. Such legacy samples are particularly precious, since similar extensive sets of experiments are unlikely to be carried out nowadays mainly due to funding and ethical issues.
Over the last three years, a framework project supported by the European Union within the FP7 Euratom programme has set up an international platform to share data, biomaterials and methods from past, current and future radiobiological experiments. The project entitled STORE (for Sustaining access to Tissue and data frOm Radiobiological Experiments) is coordinated by the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (Bfs) in Germany and involves 8 European partners, including IBBL (Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg).
Apart from setting up infrastructure for the physical storage of samples and data, the STORE consortium also developed the necessary standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the evaluation of the archived tissue samples. This includes protocols for the isolation of DNA, RNA and proteins from tissue samples stored in the form of formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) blocks.
As a partner of this FP7 project, the IBBL Biospecimen Research team has tested and verified all methods proposed by the STORE consortium for the isolation of DNA, RNA and proteins from FFPE tissue. The team used tissue samples provided by STORE and IBBL’s own reference material to assess critical factors such as inter-operator reproducibility and robustness of the methods with regards to fixation, source and age of the sample. Olga Kofanova, PhD, the Biospecimen Researcher at IBBL who led the work, comments on the results: “The validation work demonstrated that good quality RNA, DNA and proteins can be recovered from FFPE tissue and the STORE SOPs are reproducible and robust.” In addition to confirming the suitability of the consortium’s methods, the results support the use of quality control methods by biobanks to assess the quality of molecular derivatives extracted from such tissue samples. All validated methods are now proposed by the store consortium (www.fp7store.de) as standard SOPs which can be used by the international biobanking community.