Dr. David Busseuil: towards personalized medicine with the Biobank


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When he first landed in Montreal in 2005 to complete his post-doctorate with Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif at the Montreal Heart Institute, Dr. David Busseuil was still unaware that he would never return to Dijon. Several years later, he is now director of an impressive bank of biological samples and data used for clinical research, the André and France Desmarais Hospital Cohort at the Montreal Heart Institute, also known as the Biobank.

Predestined for a life in science

From an early age, Dr. Busseuil was passionate about science, and especially chemistry. As a young person, he had fun at home creating all kinds of experiments and concocting different mixtures to study their reactions. During his studies in natural sciences, his interest turned to physiology. Without a specific career plan in mind, he first studied applied biology in Dijon, then biomedical sciences in England, before specializing in physiopathology and cardiovascular pharmacology at the master’s and doctoral level. “My awakening to cardiology came about naturally during my career. Beginning with my master’s, my studies began heading in that direction.”

Upon his arrival at the Montreal Heart Institute, this post-doctoral fellow participated in the creation of an experimental research laboratory with Dr. Tardif and Dr. Rhéaume, focusing his work on aortic valve disease. After receiving his diploma, Dr. Tardif invited Dr. Busseuil to join his team as a research partner, an offer which led to him moving permanently to Montreal. “I gladly accepted the offer! There’s a strong culture of research at the Institute, it’s really vibrant. I held this position for six years, until 2014, when I became director of the Biobank.”

From experimental research to clinical research

This appointment marked a turning point in Dr. Busseuil’s professional life, as he abandoned experimental research in favour of clinical research. “I loved experimental research,” he says. “This approach allows you to make many small discoveries every day. It’s rewarding, but it can take ten years to see the real impact on patients. In clinical research, the approach is more concrete. We know more quickly if a therapy will be beneficial or not for the patient. That’s what hooked me.”

The Biobank: a valuable tool for all researchers

Created in 2007 by Dr. Tardif, the Biobank aims to establish the link between genetics and cardiovascular diseases. When it was created, the goal was to recruit 30,000 participants to build a complete and impressive bank of biological samples and data. The great majority of participants are treated at the Montreal Heart Institute, but the Biobank is open to any adult person who wants to contribute.

Participants agree to have 30 ml of their blood drawn, from which DNA, plasma, white blood cells, and red blood cells will then be extracted. Participants must also answer a questionnaire with approximately 300 questions relating as much to their personal/family medical and psychological history and medication intake as to their lifestyle, diet, socio-demographic situation, and practice of sports.

Abundant and up-to-date data

All of this data, which is accessible to researchers, is stored and updated every four years. “This is a big but important job, which ensures consistently up-to-date data for researchers at the Institute and for international researchers who use our samples.”

“The Biobank is a veritable gold mine of scientific information. With all the data collected, we get about 900 possible variables per participant. This large amount of personal data must consequently be stored and used with respect for confidentiality, which is essential for this type of project.” By making so many biological samples and information available to researchers, the Biobank has a concrete impact on the speed of research and its direct consequences on patients.

Towards personalized medicine

The purpose of the Biobank is to promote personalized medicine, also referred to as precision medicine. What does that mean concretely? “Patients don’t all react the same way to treatments. So it’s important to be able to target the most suitable treatment for each one. By having an increasingly in-depth knowledge of the patient’s genetic profile, we should be able to better adapt their therapy and possibly even prevent certain diseases from affecting them. The goal is to target a treatment adapted to each patient so as to increase its effectiveness.”

The role of the Biobank director: 360o of involvement

As director, Dr. Busseuil oversees various aspects of the Biobank.

Team management

The director manages the Biobank’s three staff units: the nursing unit, the administrative unit, and the medical technologist unit. “This ranges from patient recruitment, to appointment scheduling, blood testing, blood-sample processing, the questionnaire, and sample and data storage.”

Contact with researchers

The director also manages the requests from different researchers who want to access the Biobank’s samples and data. “We receive their selection criteria and assess how many matching samples we can provide them. If they decide to go ahead, their research project is submitted to the Biobank’s management committee and to the Institute’s ethics committee. Once the project has been accepted, we carry out the delivery of the samples and data, always in a coded way.” Although researchers from the Institute are the majority of the Biobank’s users, Dr. Busseuil also receives requests from elsewhere, including Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

Supervising the safe transmission of data and samples

Two centres are essential to the proper functioning of the Biobank: the Beaulieu-Saucier Pharmacogenomics Centre at the Université de Montréal, which stores the samples, and the MHICC (Montreal Health Innovations Coordinating Centre at the Montreal Heart Institute) which manages the Biobank database. A codification of samples and patient data has been established since the creation of the Biobank in order to allow for their extraction and sharing according to a very strict protocol. Dr. Busseuil also supervises these operations.

An important contribution to advances in cardiovascular research

Dr. Busseuil acknowledges that his team’s work can seem pretty routine on a daily basis: collecting and processing data, meeting with participants, following up on files. “For my part, I always keep in mind the research projects that we make possible. We work to build the raw material needed for research. What is all the more motivating is that we do more than just nourish hope. Real advances that are beneficial to patients are regularly achieved thanks to the use of this Biobank.”

Research always rhymes with publication, and several extremely important articles published in scientific journals have come directly from the Biobank. “That’s a great showcase for the Biobank. It shows that the research done using these samples and data is a very credible source of results.”

Pride and recognition

Dr. Busseuil makes it his duty to share this pride with his entire team. “I share published research articles with employees and I regularly invite researchers to come and present the results of their projects. Seeing that results are obtained thanks to our work is really motivating and brings great recognition to the whole team.”

The Foundation: essential to the operation of the Biobank

Dr. Busseuil makes it clear that the Biobank’s operations depend entirely on contributions from the Foundation and its donors. “Beyond its budget allocated for our activities, the Foundation is also actively working to find specific donors for the Biobank. It also plays a key role in communicating and interpreting our activities to the wider public.”

Giving to the Foundation is a gesture that directly promotes cardiovascular research. “At the Montreal Heart Institute, we believe that personalized medicine is the future. And the Biobank plays a leading role in getting us there.”

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