Together with the Canadian Office of Biobank Education and Research (OBER) of the University of British Columbia, the German Biobank Node (GBN) is building a platform for the further education and training of technical staff in biobanks. Dr. Peter Watson, Director of OBER, talks in an interview about the opportunities and challenges of such training programs.
What are the biggest challenges in biobank education?
Biobanking is becoming professionalized, which is why we have a need for specific training and education for people who do biobanking. But due to the way research funding works in North America, we have a situation where most academic institutions have set up institutional biobanks but still the majority of research labs do their own biobanking. They get a grant and create their own collection. So currently, we have this broad spectrum of biobanks and people with a variety of backgrounds working there - from a research grad student, to a technician in a research lab, to an institutional biobank professional. I think the challenge that this creates is how to come up with an appropriate spectrum of education for the range of individuals who do biobanking. That’s why we started OBER. Our mission is to improve the ability of researchers to conduct high quality health research that utilizes human biospecimens.
How do you address the different educational needs?
We feel it is important to offer solutions for all individuals who are doing biobanking in the research arena, not only for professionals in large biobanks but also for these researchers. Our content approach has been to create a modular design with specialized modules that relate largely to peoples’ roles in biobanking and less complicated overview modules that are targeted towards individuals in research labs. We’ve now moved on to creating new specialty modules that speak the language of the target groups (i.e. researchers) even better. This content is all offered online and recently, we’ve taken our current self-paced online education and turned it into a 6-week university certificate online course. Students from all over the world participate in the program.
How does OBER support better biobanking?
When we started OBER in 2011 we saw a need for an entity that would improve the process and quality of biobanking across all health research, initially in our province, then Canada and internationally. But how do you provide services, education, tools and advice for researchers to do a better job with their biobanking? In Canada, professional biobanks have the expertise but conduct perhaps only 10 percent of the biobanking while the other 90 percent of biobanking is conducted by researchers in their labs, clinical studies, and trials. That’s the reality, let’s face and address it. So if we believe in raising the quality and standards for biobanking, it’s not enough to just make better professional biobanks. We can encourage researchers to use the services of professional biobanks, or we can focus on getting researchers to adopt standards, or better we should do both. The best way to do this is to communicate why standards are important and provide ways that help researchers adopt them and at the same time make it easier for researchers to find biobanks to do their biobanking.
What is the mission and work program about?
The three components of OBER are: 1. To deliver certification for biobanks. This is a process based on a combination of registration, education and document verification to enhance both access to biospecimen, standardization and quality across all types of biobanks. 2. To develop and disseminate biobank education that informs researchers and biobanks about standards. 3. To offer support, services and tools through our Biobank Resource Center for researchers and biobanks.
GBN is planning to adapt part of the online education program that you developed in OBER for Germany. How will the cooperation look like?
OBER has developed online education tools that can be adapted with partners through customized portals that conform to local approaches. Our education modules are focused on “why you should care”, “what can go wrong” and “where can you find standards” and can thus be integrated as foundational components into any quality and standards implementation scheme. All the contents and tools were developed through a national grass roots process and have been subjected to international review, critique, and improvement. OBER now has significant experience in delivering online biobanking education as standalone education or as education linked to standards improvement processes such as exams and document verification processes. We will adapt with GBN the content and delivery systems to create a customized German version of the education course. This way, the experience across the GBN will be harnessed to create new content, enhance the quality and breadth of the current materials, and over time contribute to reducing the cost of maintaining and updating these education systems.
The Interview was conducted by Wiebke Lesch and Cornelia Specht.