Biobanks collect, process and store human bodily substances, such as blood or tissue, under well-defined and controlled conditions. By using these biosamples and related patient data for their research, scientists can gain deeper insights into a particular disease and develop new, targeted therapies. Biobank networks therefore play an especially important role for future medicine.
By Michael Hummel and Cornelia Specht
The times of small collections of biospecimens being stored at many different locations within a hospital are becoming more and more a thing of the past. Back then, patients were not even asked for their consent to store samples of their blood or tissue, and the quality of the samples was assessed based on subjective criteria. Fortunately, this has changed significantly over the past two decades.
“Modern biobanks, by contrast, are operated in a highly professional manner,” explains Prof. Dr. Michael Hummel, coordinator of the German Biobank Node (GBN), the umbrella organisation for academic biobanks in Germany, and co-author of a recent article on the topic published in the Journal of Laboratory Medicine. “With medical progress and rapidly developing precision medicine, the demand for high-quality samples and associated data have increased considerably.”
With the help of precision medicine, diseases can be diagnosed with increasing accuracy so that a treatment that exactly fits the needs of the patient can be carried out. Precision medicine uses data from genetic or molecular research to find the right therapy, for the right patient, at the right time. Accordingly, the impact and importance of well-organised and centralised biobanks has been recognised globally, particularly in the last decade. Hence, enormous efforts have been made to establish and operate institutional biobanks in many medical centers.
In Germany, the GBN coordinates a network of academic biobanks, ensures the establishment of uniform quality standards, and builds an IT infrastructure connecting all locations in a single system. This makes high quality biosamples more easily accessible for medical researchers.
The importance of biobank networks will continue to grow in the future because it is only through cooperation that sufficiently large sample collections of correspondingly high quality, including extensive data, can be compiled for research projects. “This is particularly true due to the rapidly increasing molecular subtyping of almost every disease,” says Dr. Cornelia Specht, managing director at the GBN. “For example, lung cancer, which until a few years ago was regarded as a single disease, can be divided into numerous therapy-relevant molecular subgroups. Some of these subgroups comprise less than one percent of all affected patients and are therefore considered rare diseases.”
Find out more about biobanking and the advantages of a highly developed biobank network in this short video.
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