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IHCC Cohort Spotlight: Taiwan Biobank (TWB)

The Taiwan Biobank is the oldest and arguably most comprehensive biobank in Taiwan. Established in 2012 at Academia Sinica, its goal is to accelerate scientific discovery by providing researchers access to resources for biomedical research. The TWB’s main resource is its population cohort, which is comprised of 200,000 participants recruited from different parts of Taiwan, with most participants being between the age of 30-70. All participants have signed a broad informed consent with the choice of allowing linkage of their biobank data with other health-related databases from the government. All activities are conducted in accordance with the Human Biobank Management Act of Taiwan, which was enacted in 2010.

Fig 1. Precision medicine takes individual variations in genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors into account, allowing doctors to more accurately predict which treatment and prevention strategies will work in different groups of people.

The TWB is the only biobank in Taiwan to carry biospecimen, questionnaire results and genomics data at scale. All participants donated blood plasma and urine samples which are stored on-site at the TWB headquarters located in the National Biotechnology Research Park, Taipei (Fig. 1). The TWB also provides DNA samples extracted from the buffy coat of all participants. Each participant is asked to fill out a comprehensive questionnaire to provide information about the individual’s anthropometry, socioeconomic status, lifestyle, and family disease history. Physical examination measurements and serum biochemistry data are also collected for each participant. On the omics side, whole-genome genotyping data has been acquired for ~150,000 participants using a bespoken gene chip. Several different omics data sets are also available for subsets of the participants, including whole genome sequences (~2000), DNA methylome (~2400), urine plasticizer levels (~1800) and blood plasma metabolome (~3000) among others (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Taiwan Biobank resources available for biomedical research

The TWB has a follow-up program where the participants are recalled after a period of time and a new set of biospecimen and data are then collected. Currently, over 46,000 participants have had their first follow-up visit. Several of them (~26,000) also have at least one type of medical image available. In addition, domestic users of the TWB can apply for data linkage with the National Health Insurance Research Database to obtain diagnosis and prescription information of TWB participants.

The TWB resource has been widely used by domestic researchers, supporting over 280 research projects and 300 publications. Unfortunately, international access to individual-level data is currently curtailed due to recent national security concerns. The TWB is working on its own trusted research environment (TRE) to provide international users with a secure and ethical way to peruse individual-level data, and we hope to start the service in late 2024/early 2025. Meanwhile, international collaborations where the data is analyzed within Taiwan and only summary results are exported are very welcome.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Hsiu-Ming Shih, PhD
Director, Taiwan Biobank, and Research Fellow, Institute of Biomedical Sciences
Academia Sinica
Taipei, Taiwan
E-mail: hmshih@ibms.sinica.edu.tw

Chung-ke Chang, PhD
Chief Strategy Officer, Taiwan Biobank
Institute of Biomedical Sciences, Academia Sinica
Taipei, Taiwan
E-mail: chungke@ibms.sinica.edu.tw

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