South Australia’s first autoimmune blood bank will be set up by scientists from Flinders University and SA Pathology, providing a central depository for vital research into different autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus.
Located at Flinders Medical Centre, the blood bank will collect and store blood tissue cells from patients with an autoimmune disorder, including the newly diagnosed, with the samples to be used by researchers to identify patterns and possible causes of these common diseases.
An autoimmune disorder occurs when a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own body tissues. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases, with latest figures showing they affect about 1 in 20 people in Australia and New Zealand, costing an estimated $4.3 billion annually.
Flinders University Senior Medical Scientist Dimitra Beroukas (pictured), who is setting up the blood bank with Flinders Medical Centre Senior Clinical Immunopathologist Dr Tatjana Banovic, said South Australia currently has no formal system for collecting and storing autoimmune blood.
“At the moment the only blood that comes into the lab is in very small samples of about half a millilitre and after it has been used for diagnostic investigations it is disposed of,” Ms Beroukas, based in the Flinders Immunology and Rheumatology Department and SA Pathology, said.
“Once a person has been confirmed with having an autoimmune disorder we will write to the doctor asking for patient consent to collect blood at the hospital in a much bigger sample of about 10 millilitres,” she said.
“With a larger amount we will be able analyse the blood at a genetic and molecular level to identify certain genes that might be involved and we will also be able to look for commonalities in the presence of autoantibodies, which are responsible for attacking the body.
“The samples will also help researchers evaluate the reliability of new diagnostic kits that come on to the market to detect these autoantibodies.”
With no cure for autoimmune diseases, Ms Beroukas said it was hoped the blood bank would improve understanding of the mechanisms involved in the disease, thereby providing potential treatment options.
“People with rheumatoid arthritis, for example, could be in a lot of pain because of the autoantibodies attacking the joint but we don’t actually know if it’s genetics, stress or other factors causing the immune response.
“The great thing about the blood bank is that it’s co-located in the hospital so clinicians, scientists and students can all benefit.
“This bench-to-bedside research resource will lead to a greater understanding of autoimmune diseases for future therapeutic targets and development of improved diagnostic tests.”