Biobanks play an important role in biomedical research. They ensure that human biospecimens meet uniform standards of quality and that both the samples and their associated data are easily accessible. Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin is home to the German Biobank Node (GBN), the umbrella organisation for German biobanks, which was founded in 2017. Since its foundation, GBN has provided the auspices for the development of a powerful partnership comprising a total of 20 university biobanks: the German Biobank Alliance (GBA). Coordinated by GBN, the partners are harmonising their quality management processes and developing a linked-up IT infrastructure. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will continue to support GBN’s work for a further three years, providing approximately € 3.5 million in funding. Approximately € 2.4 million of this money has been allocated to Charité, another € 1.1 million to the partner sites, the BioMaterialBank Heidelberg (BMBH), the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) Heidelberg and the Integrated Biobank Jena (IBBJ). From 2024, the German Biobank Node will become a permanent structure within the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH).
Blood, tissue samples, isolated cells or extracted DNA. The biobanks of the German Biobank Alliance (GBA) currently hold approximately 22 million human biosamples, with more being added all the time. The samples have to be processed before being banked and later released for use in preclinical research, the testing of new drugs and treatments at all stages of the clinical trials process and the development and testing of new diagnostic methods. The collections are an essential resource for many research disciplines, including in COVID-19 research, where biobanks and their services play a key role.
Quality and access to biospecimens are crucial
When it comes to producing robust research data, the quality of biosamples and their associated data is of paramount importance. Operating on behalf of the alliance partners, GBN has therefore introduced harmonised quality standards, and provides training for members of staff of the partner biobanks. Furthermore, GBN’s online ‘Sample Locator’ tool (samplelocator.bbmri.de) enables researchers to search information from multiple biobanks to locate specific samples and data. “The new funding phase will see us continue in our efforts to drive our quality agenda and develop and improve the IT infrastructure linking the various biobanks,” says Prof. Dr. Michael Hummel, Head of GBN and ZeBanC, Charité’s and BIH’s central biobank. “We will also expand the membership of GBA in order to widen our pool of high-quality samples and data and make it more accessible to researchers. In the medium term, our aim is to expand our alliance to include all academic biobanks.”
Cooperation with research infrastructures
GBN and the Medical Informatics Initiative (which is also funded by the BMBF) plan to work closely together over the coming years. A joint project will see the partners create closer links between their respective IT infrastructures and develop a standardised and fully data protection-compliant nationwide platform to store research data sets and make them available to users. Comprising clinical, imaging, and biosample-related data on individual patients, these data sets combine data from multiple centres and store them in pseudonymised form. “Our work also extends to the European level, where we are working with the European biobanking organisation, BBMRI-ERIC. GBN has been one of the organisation’s National Nodes since 2013. Within the organisation, our role is to represent the interests of German biobanks and promote European research collaborations,” says Dr. Cornelia Specht, Managing Director of GBN.
Integration of the GBN into the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH)
In order to further strengthen GBN’s position within the research environment and create a sustainable infrastructure, 2024 will see the umbrella organisation for German academic biobanks become a permanent entity within the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH). “The BIH gains a strong partner in the German Biobank Node, one which will enable it to tackle important national and international challenges. Its vision aligns wonderfully well with the BIH’s strategic concept, meaning that we will be able to join forces in our fight to improve research quality,” says BIH Chief Executive Officer Prof. Dr. Christopher Baum, who has been a member of GBN’s Scientific Advisory Board since the start of 2021.
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