A British biotech company has purchased a biobank containing the genetic information of almost 13,000 genealogically linked residents from the region of Ogliastre in Sardinia, Italy.
Tiziana Life Sciences paid £217,000 to Sardinian genomics company SharDNA for the biobank, which includes more than 230,000 biological samples that are linked to family medical records dating back 400 years. Tiziana, which will establish a subsidiary in Sardinia to manage the biobank, has said it will use next-generation sequencing technology to study the DNA as part of its research into disease and ageing.
Centenarians make up an unusually large proportion of the population of Ogliastre, where longevity is second only to the Japanese island of Okinawa. Chief executive of Tiziana, Gabriele Cerrone, explained that they would be looking for differences between the genes from Ogliastra and those from elsewhere. 'Can you make a magic drug to make people live longer? Probably not, but you can compare the differences in their genes to other villages around the world and see if there are big alterations,' he said.
Previous studies have been unable to explain why life expectancy within this Sardinian province is significantly higher than the rest of the island. While some locals believe their diet and active sex lives to be the explanation, Cerrone hopes that these samples will reveal a genetic cause for the longevity.
'Part of it is the environment and the diet, of course, but part of it might be something genetic that we don't yet know about,' he said.
The biobank may also help in the development of drugs for some illnesses. As the population in Ogliastra is unusually homogenous, genetic traits relating to disease can be more easily traced.
While Cerrone accepts Tiziana got the samples at 'a great price', the payout has received some criticism. One Italian MP commented: 'They [the residents of Ogliastra] gave their blood for scientific, not commercial reasons, and the use of it should be public.'