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EU to Develop Prototype for Biobanking Initiative

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The body focused on enhancing Europe’s biobanking potential for research purposes has completed a review of over 300 biobanks and now will move on to the next phase of its efforts to develop a prototype for an international system.

The Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure, or BBMRI, aims to provide a Europe-wide collection of samples of biomedical quality.

Currently, the research infrastructure includes 51 participating institutions and 190 associated organizations, representing 30 EU and associated countries.

In the upcoming prototype development phase, the project partners hope to close “a potential gap between the planning and implementation phases of the project, to be functional by the end of 2010.”

This preparatory phase of the BBMRI program has been funded with €5 million ($7.1 million) by the EU’s Seventh Framework Program.

"For the first time we have a real map, or landscape, of what type of resources are really available in Europe," Kurt Zatloukal of the Medical University of Graz said in a statement.

Eero Vuorio, a professor at the University of Turku, Finland, described sample coding for privacy as an important part of the effort needed to make biobanking more useful.

“We have to remove all the identifiers so that researchers cannot trace back [...] the person who generated some samples for research,” he said in a statement.

“The goal is to aggregate the highly distributed data, which is collected at university hospitals and public research centers, and provide common access,” he added.
The web interface used under the BBMRI program will show only data relating to groups of people that share common features, he said.

Vuorio also said that a major challenge will be to connect relevant information found in one sample to others, which can be particularly difficult in the case of older samples and those that lack certain types of information.

Another challenge will be creating a harmonized database using data from currently incompatible systems, Vuorio said.

Maintaining consistency in the quality of the samples also will be an important challenge, Vuorio said, explaining that participating biobanks need to agree on standards for treating samples from when they are taken.

Vuorio also sees ethical and legal issues across member states as potential bottlenecks to the biobanking effort. There are different education levels and attitudes about biomedical research and different interpretations of EU legislation, he said. Obtaining informed consent will be a critical part of the sample donation process, Vuorio advised.

“We now have to collect the samples that lay the foundation for research in the next 10 to 20 years," he said, "but it's very hard to predict what will be relevant."

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