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Cardiff Blues rugby stars give blood for biobank

Lloyd Williams in action for the Cardiff Blues Image copyright Ian Cook/CameraSport/Getty Images
Image caption Lloyd Williams in action for the Cardiff Blues

Lloyd Williams is used to giving his all when he turns out for Cardiff Blues.

But now with other team-mates, the former Wales scrum half has donated a sample of his blood towards a biobank, to help medical research.

Cardiff University Biobank, to be opened by the health secretary, has the capacity for a million samples.

It gives researchers from across the UK access to material to help develop treatments for serious illnesses.

Image caption Samples are kept at different temperatures

The biobank team spent two days with the Cardiff Blues squad, taking blood, which will be stored until needed.

Williams, 28, said: “It is something which could give us a head-start in research.

“It’s great a country so small can be leading the way, and as a Welshman I’m extremely proud to play a part.”

Based at Cardiff’s University Hospital of Wales, the biobank brings together samples – ranging from saliva and urine to tissue and organs – from eight separate facilities at Cardiff University under one roof.

Image caption This explains what can be stored in the biobank – and at what temperatures

It also has perhaps the most advanced refrigeration and freezing facilities in Wales.

Samples are stored at different temperatures – the coldest will be in vats of liquid nitrogen at minus 177 degrees centigrade, and some freezers which are four times colder than the ones you have in your kitchen.

It will be looking for healthy people of all ages to donate samples – which researchers can apply to use in a process overseen by an independent committee.

The biobank insists samples held will be absolutely secure and anonymous – no information which could identify donors will be shared.

Image caption Dr Kate Shires says an independent panel will oversee all applications to use samples

Dr Kate Shires is a “bank manager” with a difference – in charge of this £1.6m biological storage facility.

“With a donation of saliva from a healthy person, for example – one of the things we can get from it is DNA which is really useful, so we can potentially find someone with a particular disease of the same gender and age range,” she said.

“The researchers could compare the two DNA profiles and see what is different and that could potentially pinpoint the faulty gene and cure a disease.”

Health Secretary Vaughan Gething, who will be officially opening the facility on Monday, said: “The benefits will not only be felt by our research community, who will have an improved infrastructure to help them obtain funding for research, but by the people in Wales and beyond who will benefit from advances in medical treatments.”

As for the Cardiff Blues, one by-product is that learning more about their players’ physiology might give them a small edge in future.

Dan Jones, head of medical services at the rugby region, said: “As elite athletes, they’re robust and perhaps a little more immune to general illness so it will be interesting to looking into their blood profiles to see how it might set them apart.”

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