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Biobanks Go Global

Credit: tilialucida/adobe

Credit: tilialucida/adobe

By Paul H. Mason, Wendy Lipworth & Ian Kerridge

Global networks of depositories for biological samples open a range of scientific, legal and ethical challenges.

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Medical research increasingly relies on collections of donated human tissue, such as DNA samples, blood samples and solid organs and tissues. These collections of donated samples – referred to as biobanks, biorepositories or tissue banks – can be used in basic science experiments, population studies, or towards the refinement and personalisation of medical and surgical techniques.

The practice of collecting and systematically organising biological samples is not new. Famous historical collections were put together by Carl Linnaeus (1707–78) in Sweden, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707–88) in France, and Joseph Banks (1743–1820) in England.

In recent years, however, advances in experimental techniques (such as whole genome sequencing) and information technologies (such as “big data” storage and analytics) have massively increased the promise of biomedical research using collections of human biological samples.

In order for the promise of biobanks to be fulfilled, large numbers of samples need to be collected, stored and analysed. Until recently, most biobanks were located within individual universities, research institutes or health facilities, and often tied to specific research projects.

Increasingly, however, biobanks have become “networked” in an effort to become more sustainable and to increase their utility. Most often, these...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.