Trust is not only an important factor for the relationship between biospecimen donors and biobanks. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that the trust of citizens in science needs to be strengthened or even restored. This message ran through several presentations during Europe Biobank Week, which took place for the second time as a virtual conference in 2021. High-profile keynote speakers such as Dr. Sylvie Briand from the WHO and Dr. Mikael Dolsten from Pfizer spoke about what is needed in the face of the pandemic and beyond. Briand presented the WHO BioHub system, which has been designed to support member states in quickly exchanging information on particularly dangerous pathogens in the future – and thus also in the sharing of samples. Dolsten advocated greater patient involvement, the pooling of data across biobanks and a broader application of machine learning and artificial intelligence. However, harmonisation at the regulatory level is necessary for more cooperative research in times of crisis, said lawyer Carla Barbosa.
Wide range of topics discussed
In addition to "lessons learned" from the pandemic, the EBW covered a broad thematic spectrum. The sessions covered topics ranging from quality management to IT solutions for biobanks, population-based biobanking, biomonitoring and exposure science to dealing with incidental findings. The conference with 39 sessions as well as 172 speakers and chairs was attended by representatives from 42 countries. Participants from Germany were the most strongly represented. The recordings of the presentations and the poster platform will be available online for three months.
Presence of GBN & GBA
Representatives of the German Biobank Node (GBN) and the German Biobank Alliance (GBA) were present at the EBW as speakers and session chairs and presented their posters. Dr. Johanna Schiller, GBN project manager, was awarded a prize for her poster "German Biobank Alliance (GBA): E-learning modules for technical personnel to enhance biospecimen quality". In her presentation, she explained how the online learning modules usefully complement the GBN's training and further education offer including on-site training, workshops and webinars. Christiane Hartfeldt and Dr. Sabrina Schmitt, both members of GBN's quality management team, presented the quality programme GBN uses to prepare GBA biobanks for accreditations according to the biobanking standard ISO 20387. The QM manual, which is available Open Access, and the GBA proficiency tests attracted particular interest. Sven Heiling (Integrated Biobank Jena) spoke about quality indicators for serum, which are examined in the context of quality assurance for GBA biobanks.
In the session "Novel IT solutions, effective data storage, processing and analysis", moderated by Ann-Kristin Kock-Schoppenhauer (Interdisciplinary Centre for Biobanking-Lübeck) and GBN director Prof. Dr. Michael Hummel, Dr. Cecilia Engels, GBN coordinator for IT, described the development of the infrastructure for biobanks in Germany – from the mission to enable multi-centre sample collections to the very practical perspective of how a request for samples and associated data works via the online search tool "Sample Locator".
With Nobel Prize flair
During his keynote, Prof. Dr. Stefan Hell, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, gave the audience some advice: "Aim high, but stay grounded." He explained how he spent years trying to overcome the diffraction barrier in microscopy and was met with scepticism for just as long. Finally, he made the breakthrough that enabled new groundbreaking insights in biological and medical research and for which he was honoured with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Scientific consensus is not always set in stone, Hell summed up.
EBW 2022 as a personal meeting
The biobanking community will have another opportunity to persistently pursue its goals at the next EBW in 2022. The conference will again be organised by the European biobanking organisations BBMRI-ERIC and ESBB. Next year, the EBW will take place as a face-to-face meeting; the date and venue are currently being coordinated.
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