A biobank is a type of biorepository that stores biological samples (usually human) for use in research. Since the late 1990s biobanks have become an important resource in medical research, supporting many types of contemporary research like genomics and personalized medicine.
Biobanks give researchers access to data representing a large number of people. Samples in biobanks and the data derived from those samples can often be used by multiple researchers for cross purpose research studies. For example, many diseases are associated with single nucleotide polymorphisms, and performing genome-wide association studies using large collections of samples which represent tens or hundreds of thousands of individuals can help to identify disease biomarkers. Many researchers struggled to acquire sufficient samples prior to the advent of biobanks.
Biobanks have provoked questions on privacy, research ethics and medical ethics. While viewpoints on what constitutes appropriate biobank ethics diverge, consensus has been reached that operating biobanks without establishing carefully considered governing principles and policies could be detrimental to communities that participate in biobank programs.
The significance of human biorepositories for modern medical research, particularly for comprehensive population-based genetic analyses, is constantly growing. While large and centralized institutions are usually considered best suited to meet the increasing demand for high-quality “biobanks,” most medical research institutions still host rather heterogeneous and fragmented biobanking activities, undertaken by clinical departments with oftentimes rather different scientific scope. Undoubtedly, most clinicians and medical researchers would appreciate infrastructural support in terms of the storage and handling of their biosamples, but they are also likely to expect access to their samples avoiding extensive formal requirements. We report on the establishment of the PopGen 2.0 Network (P2N), an overarching alliance of initially seven biobanks from Northern Germany which adopted a joint but lean governance structure and use-and-access policy for their samples and data. In addition, the members of P2N have pursued an intense collaboration on ethical, legal and social issues and maintain a common IT infrastructure. The implementation of P2N has substantially improved the prospects of biobank-based research at the participating institutions. The network may thus serve as a role model for similar initiatives geared at linking pre-existing biorepositories for the benefit of research quality, efficiency, and transparency 1).