Safeguarding access to and quality of biosamples in research

Joint press release by the German Biobank Node (GBN), Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH)

BMBF awards German Biobank Node (GBN) € 3.5 million in funding

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 organization 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 harmonizing 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 in Heidelberg and Jena. 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.

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 harmonized 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 central biomaterials bank. “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.”

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 standardized 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 centers and store them in pseudonymized form. “Our work also extends to the European level, where we are working with the European biobanking organization, the BBMRI-ERIC. GBN has been one of the organization’s National Nodes since 2013. Within the organization, our role is to represent the interests of German biobanks and promote European research collaborations,” says Dr. Cornelia Specht, Managing Director of GBN.

In order to further strengthen GBN’s position within the research environment and create a sustainable infrastructure, 2024 will see the umbrella organization 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.

German Biobank Node (GBN)
The German Biobank Node is the umbrella organization for academic biobanks in Germany. Led by GBN, 20 biobank sites have joined forces with one IT development center to provide biosamples for both national and international biomedical researchers. GBN is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and represents the interests of German biobanks within the European research infrastructure for biobanking, the BBMRI-ERIC.