German Biobank Alliance: Meeting in Erlangen

The second meeting of the German Biobank Alliance (GBA) this year brought together around 50 participants in Erlangen on 26-27 September. "The meeting not only provided a unique platform for professional exchange, but also created an atmosphere of open dialogue and collegial collaboration," said GBN Director Prof. Dr. Michael Hummel. Dr. Sarah Eickhoff, Scientific Director of BioBank Bonn, agreed: "I really enjoyed the meeting because I was able to make a lot of contacts". The event was organised by the German Biobank Node (GBN) in cooperation with the Central Biobank Erlangen (CeBE).

Biosamples and data: Collecting special treasures

Biobanks are the "treasure troves" of biomedical research. To ensure that they are well filled and that the valuable resources under their roof find a safe home, biobankers should be particularly active. This was emphasised by Prof. Dr. Alexandra Nieters, head of the FREEZE biobank in Freiburg. She described the "jewels" she has already been able to acquire – in particular longitudinal collections with samples from Germany and abroad, including long-standing contacts with patients. "It is very important to show initiative locally and to build trust with those who have created the collections," said Nieters. "The biobank must also offer concepts on how to integrate such 'historical' collections, for example with different consent forms. For rare diseases in particular, it is very important to integrate the collections into professional biobanks so that they can be made visible and accessible to other researchers.”

IT tools provide access to "treasure troves”

Online search tools such as GBN's Sample Locator and the German Biobank Directory are available for this purpose. A federated IT infrastructure with locally installed bridgeheads connects the GBA biobanks and provides data for centralised queries. This year, the bridgehead systems were revised and newly installed in the biobanks. Dr. Zdenka Dudová, IT Coordinator at GBN, presented the IT developments: "The big advantage of the new bridgeheads is that now several connections are possible and different query systems can be operated." A relaunch of the Sample Locator with a completely revised user interface and new functions is imminent.

Opening of the Central Biobank Erlangen (CeBE)

The Central Biobank Erlangen (CeBE) is another GBA site that has already collected a treasure trove of samples and data. The ceremonial opening of the new premises was a highlight of the GBA meeting. CeBE started its activities in 2020 and became a GBA partner biobank in 2021. The initial aim was to unite the existing (sub-)biobanks in Erlangen under the umbrella of an overarching structure. "Harmonisation was the central factor in the merger," said CeBE board spokesperson Prof. Dr. Bernd Wullich. "The support of GBN/GBA was crucial in this process". Prof. Dr. Matthias Beckmann, Director of the Women's Hospital and the Comprehensive Cancer Centre Erlangen-EMN, added: "Quality-assured biobanking is now an indispensable part of all faculties. Some grants are only awarded if a biobank is available on site".

Quality assured biobanking – with accreditation?

Accreditation according to the international standard ISO 20387 for biobanking is the most prominent option to prove the competence of a biobank. "The costs of accreditation should not be underestimated, so each site should carry out a cost-benefit analysis," says Dr. Alexandra Stege, Operational Director of the Central Biobank Charité/BIH (ZeBanC). One argument in favour of ISO 20387 accreditation is that in the future, biobank certifications to other standards will only be offered for the scope of the quality management system. "ISO 20387 has been the authoritative standard for biobanks for a few years now," says Bettina Meinung of the German Accreditation Body (DAkkS). "Accreditation costs money, but there are also maintenance costs for existing certifications, such as ISO 9001 or accreditation to ISO 17025, which are not really suitable as proof of competence for biobanks. Last but not least, the increasing networking and internationalisation of biobanks underlines the importance of ISO 20387". GBN is preparing the GBA biobanks for accreditation according to this standard with its own quality programme.

A wealth of topics: From starter kit to position paper

Many other GBN/GBA offers and news were presented during the meeting, such as the recently published "starter kit" with information for biobanks in development, a template for a material transfer agreement or a position paper on biobanking and patient engagement. "For me, there were many suggestions that I would like to implement at our site in the near future," said Dr. Michaela Sander, head of the biobank at the German Heart Centre in Munich. "I am also very excited about the starter kit and the training courses on OpenILIAS.“

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