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A European Survey on Biobanks: Trends and Issues

Zika E.a, b · Paci D.a · Braun A.c · Rijkers-Defrasne S.c · Deschênes M.d · Fortier I.d · Laage-Hellman J.e · Scerri C.A.f · Ibarreta D.a
aEuropean Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Seville, Spain; bEuropean Research Council, Brussels, Belgium; cVDI-Technologiezentrum GmbH, Future Technologies Division, Düsseldorf, Germany; dPublic Population Project in Genomics (P3G), Montreal, Que.; eChalmers University of Technology and Institute for Management of Innovation and Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden; fMalta Council for Science & Technology, Kalkara, Malta Public Health Genomics 2011;14:96–103 (DOI:10.1159/000296278)


Biobanks have recently gained great significance for research and personalised medicine, being recognised as a crucial infrastructure. At the same time, the widely varied practices in biobanking may also pose a barrier to cross-border research and collaboration by limiting access to samples and data. Nevertheless, the extent of the actual activities and the impact of the level of networking and harmonisation have not been fully assessed. To address these issues and to obtain missing knowledge on the extent of biobanking in Europe, the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, in collaboration with the European Science and Technology Observatory (ESTO), conducted a survey among European biobanks. In total, 126 biobanks from 23 countries responded to the survey. Most of them are small or medium-sized public collections set up either for population-based or disease-specific research purposes. The survey indicated a limited networking among the infrastructures. The large majority of them are stand-alone collections and only about half indicated to have a policy for cross-border sharing of samples. Yet, scientific collaborations based on the use of each biobank appear to be prominent. Significant variability was found in terms of consent requirements and related procedures as well as for privacy and data protection issues among the biobanks surveyed. To help promote networking of biobanks and thus maximise public health benefits, at least some degree of harmonisation should be achieved.


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