The Pan-European Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure (BBMRI) are in the process of creating the first European Union Research Infrastructure Consortium.
The Consortium, which is expected to be in place midway in 2010, aims to build a centralized database to coordinate access to the hundreds of European biobanks, medical institutions and laboratories which collect human genetic material and biological samples for scientific investigation. Once completed, this centralized data collection will offer new levels of security and standardization for biological sampling specimens.
Established in 2008, the BBMRI represents 51 scientific groups from across Europe and collaborates with 80 other groups to determine access rights to the proposed facility. BBMRI has based its own standards and rules for the creation and governance of human genetic research databases on guidelines established by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In addition, BBMRI is working to identify software and guidelines for best practice and protocols to support the handling and sharing of samples. BBMRI envisions a network of centers based across the EU Member States and organized in a distributed hub structure. The network will contain comprehensive biological samples from various sub-populations which are linked to continuously updated data on the health status, environmental, life-style and exposure of the sample donors.1
While some nations only began collecting specimens in the 1990s, Europe has some of the most mature databanks in the world. In addition to providing a centralized repository of specimen data, the BBMRI biobank will also provide a one-stop storehouse of information on EU public health records and efficacy of treatments. BBMRI's coordinator and Medical University of Graz, Austria, Institute for Pathology project coordinator, Kurt Zatloukal, hopes that the biobank will tie in to national e-health projects where reliable data may be accessed on individual donors, but structures will be in place to ensure no data can be linked to the individual it pertains to. Due to the wide variations in approaches to data privacy among EU member states, it is anticipated, however, that there will still be challenging legal, ethical and social issues to resolve once the program is launched. Historically, these differences have resulted in wide disparities in the way biobank material is gathered and documented throughout the EU. Zatloukal hopes that this infrastructure will enable industry to overcome some of the regulatory barriers it has faced while attempting to access biomaterials. By removing these hurdles, it is also anticipated that there will be an increase in the level and quality of drug production.2
This article was originally published in DRW Monthly, September 2009, Issue No. 33