Over 1.5 million issued human biospecimens such as blood or tissue used in research projects that resulted in approximately 2,600 resulting scientific publications – the German Biobank Alliance (GBA) celebrates its fifth anniversary in 2022. Led by the German Biobank Node (GBN) and funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Alliance was launched on 1 May 2017 to serve "next-generation biobanking" initially comprimising eleven academic biobank sites and two IT development centres. "Five years later, the alliance has grown to a total of 33 biobank sites," says GBN director Prof. Dr. Michael Hummel. "The GBA therefore includes approximately 85 per cent of all medical faculties in Germany. And in 2022 it will expand again – this year's selection process is underway."
What are the biospecimens and data used for? GBN regularly publishes success stories presenting results of research projects conducted in cooperation with GBA biobanks. The extent to which the Corona pandemic has kept GBN and the GBA biobanks busy is reflected not least in the large number of COVID-19 projects presented. For example, the centralized Biomaterial Bank of RWTH Aachen University (RWTH cBMB) provided samples and data for a project that identified biomarkers to determine the severity of COVID-19 disease at an early stage. A pioneering study conducted in collaboration with the Central Biobank Charité/BIH (ZeBanC) was able to show how the immune response is trapped in a continuous loop of activation and inhibition in severe COVID-19 disease. But there were also exciting results to report beyond COVID-19 – for example, about an innovative treatment method for glioblastoma using natural killer cells, which is supported by the interdisciplinary Biomaterial and Database Frankfurt (iBDF).
Making biobanks visible
With such "success stories" it is possible to make the contribution and relevance of biobanks for biomedical research visible. "This is also an important prerequisite for making biobanks even more attractive for researchers and achieving a cultural change in the sharing of samples and data in the long term," says Dr. Cornelia Specht, GBN Executive Director. GBA biobanks address different target groups with their public relations work, in particular also the donors of biospecimens. Since 2021, many GBA biobanks have been informing patients about the value of donating samples with an animated film adapted by GBN.
For a strong new generation
Since 2021, the GBA has also been accepting Observer biobanks – "younger" institutions that are in the process of being established – to prepare them for partnership. A milestone that fits seamlessly into the commitment to both junior biobanks and biobankers. In addition to the training courses for biobank staff developed since 2017, which include e-learning courses and practical on-site training, the GBA is expected to publish a "Starter Kit" this year – a collection of information that will make it much easier for newly established biobanks to get started.
High quality standards
"Full" partner biobanks of the GBA participate in the overarching proficiency testing schemes with tissue samples as well as liquid samples and are prepared for accreditations according to the biobank standard DIN EN ISO 20387, published in 2018, through regularly conducted internal audits. "Biospecimens from GBA biobanks thus meet the strictest requirements and are particularly suitable for cross-site sample collectives," says Prof. Dr. Thomas Illig, deputy to Michael Hummel and head of the Hannover Unified Biobank (HUB). "These samples and the associated data form the basis for reproducible research results."
IT infrastructure as a catalyst for research
By connecting the GBA biobanks to an overarching IT infrastructure, the high-quality samples and their associated data are available via the online search tool "Sample Locator". In the Sample Locator, scientists can search the GBA biobanks for suitable samples and make enquiries to biobanks.
Biobanking as a research infrastructure
"We congratulate all the GBA biobanks and the IT experts on what they have achieved and thank all those involved for their contributions, the constant open exchange and the trusting cooperation," says Michael Hummel. "For the next five years and beyond, we have set ourselves many goals to anchor biobanking even more firmly as a research infrastructure in Germany and Europe. I look forward to continuing to work on this together with all my fellow campaigners!"
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