Human biospecimens and the associated data stored in biobanks help to identify diseases at an early stage and to treat them successfully. The German Biobank Node (GBN), an umbrella organisation for academic biobanks in Germany, was established to make these valuable resources more accessible to national and international research, while ensuring the highest quality standards. This year, the GBN celebrates its tenth anniversary. "As an important partner in the research landscape, the GBN has contributed to gaining insights that have far-reaching implications for medicine," says GBN Director Prof. Dr. Michael Hummel.
Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the GBN, which is based at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, began with a conceptual phase in 2014. Three years later, it took over the coordination of the newly founded German Biobank Alliance (GBA), which now comprises a total of 36 sites. Around 35 million human biosamples, such as blood, tissue samples, isolated cells or extracted DNA, are stored in the GBA biobanks, and new samples are being added continuously. The biobanks process these samples and make them available for basic scientific research, for all stages of therapy development, and for the development and testing of diagnostics.
High importance for patients and researchers
"The availability of high quality biospecimens and associated data is crucial for the development of new effective and safe therapies and thus for the improvement of patient care," emphasises patient representative Dr. Stefanie Houwaart of BRCA-Netzwerk e.V., a member of the GBN Scientific Advisory Board. Prof. Dr. Christopher Baum, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Berlin Institute for Health at the Charité (BIH) and GBN Advisory Board member, also emphasises the importance of the GBN: "The tenth anniversary of the GBN is an important event for the research community. The samples and data provided by the network have significantly advanced our research and enabled innovative approaches to personalised medicine."
Ensuring quality and access to biospecimens and data
To ensure the quality of biospecimens and data, the GBN has introduced overarching standards within the GBA and continuously trains biobank staff. In cooperation with the BioMaterialBank Heidelberg (BMBH), the Integrated Biobank Jena (IBBJ) and the BioBank Dresden (BBD), the GBN regularly carries out proficiency tests to check the quality of samples and biobank processes. With the support of the GBN, the Tissue Bank of the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg achieved accreditation according to the DIN EN ISO 20387 standard for biobanking in 2023. It is one of the first biobanks in the world with this quality certification. The GBN has created the online tool "Sample Locator" (samplelocator.bbmri.de) for researchers to search for and request samples and data in GBA biobanks.
Strong commitment at EU level
The Sample Locator has recently been further developed in collaboration with the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg and is now part of a European search and analysis platform. The "Federated Platform" is provided by the European biobank network BBMRI-ERIC (Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure – European Research Infrastructure Consortium). The tenth anniversary of the GBN is also its anniversary as a so-called National Node of the European Research Infrastructure. "Thanks to the close cooperation with BBMRI-ERIC as a National Node, we are able to facilitate the exchange of samples and data not only nationally but also globally and make a contribution to biomedical research," says GBN Managing Director Dr. Cornelia Specht.
GBN is strongly committed to establishing professional biobanks as indispensable research infrastructures. The long-term establishment of the GBN as the umbrella organisation for German biobanks is of central importance in this context. "The future of quality-oriented biobanking lies in strong cooperation at national and European level. The work of the GBN helps to accelerate research and the development of innovative therapies," emphasises Dr. Heidi Altmann of BioBank Dresden.
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