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European biobanks: archive for the medicine of the future

Biobanks – a collection of samples like u.a. Tissue, blood and plasma – are the basis of medical research. The European Research Infrastructure for BBMRI-ERIC Biobanks will be set up and operated from Graz. Digitization has a key role to play, Kurt Zatloukal, director of the Austrian node and infrastructure startup, stressed in the APA discussion.

Develop therapies and diagnose diseases with biobank<! –

Develop therapies and diagnose diseases with biobank

Biobanks have become indispensable for research: they are designed to help develop new diagnostic methods and therapies and diagnose diseases based on subtle molecular differences. Extensive analysis of blood, tissue and other samples of healthy and sick people can determine the knowledge for such a precision drug, explained the Graz pathologist. However, this only works if the samples are consistently high quality and researchers have good access to large enough sample numbers, as Zatloukal emphasized.

Archive in Graz

For more than a decade, the pathologist has sought to merge collections of biological material across Europe – so-called biobanks – into a single virtual biobanks. At the same time, technologies and standards are evolving. The "European Research Infrastructure for Biobanks and Biomolecular Resources" (BBMRI-ERIC) and the five-year Austrian center are located at the "Center for the Transfer of Knowledge and Technology in Medicine" (ZWT) in Graz.

There is also Biobank Graz from Graz University. With more than 20 million human samples and related clinical data, it is one of the largest in Europe. Bioassays collected for about three decades were embedded in paraffin or stored in liquid nitrogen at minus 196 degrees Fahrenheit. "We are collecting for the future of biomedical research," says Zatloukal. Data protection and security play a particularly important role in this development. Samples and data are therefore anonymized by Biobank Graz before being submitted to researchers, so no conclusions can be drawn about the individual donor.

Unique standards are required

However, the quality of European biobanks is not everywhere high. Kurt Zatloukal, Director of the Austrian Bio-Banking Center for European Research Infrastructure for the BBMRI-ERIC Biobank, told APA that a quality management tool is already being developed with network partners across Europe.

Using the Self-Assessment Survey, biobanks can test whether samples and processes comply with European and International Standards (CEN and ISO) – also developed from Graz – in relation to i.a. Collection, labeling, transportation and storage, solution and duration. After reviewing their samples through BBMRI-ERIC, biobanks can be assigned a CEN / TS standard in a publicly available search engine (BBMRI-ERIC directory). The catalog has also been developed by BBMRI-ERIC and already includes more than 100 million samples from around 500 biobanks in about 20 Member States.

Digitization will greatly accelerate research, Zatloukal said. For example, the Diagnostic and Research Center for Molecular BioMedicine of the University of Graz digitizes thousands of tissue sections of tissue samples embedded in paraffin. Large datasets covering the spectrum of human diseases in turn are the basis for machine learning and future use of artificial intelligence in pathology. If a piece of tissue is digital, it can be analyzed in the future by a computer using artificial intelligence. "Artificial intelligence, however, will not replace the pathologist, but will support him and open up new diagnostic options," says the researcher.

Collaboration with African biobanks

Among other things, they drive European biobanks. Graz also cooperates with African biobanks and biomedical institutes. The value of fast growing African biobanks should not be underestimated, said Zatloukal: "There is tremendous genetic diversity, other causes of disease, disease and very well trained and motivated researchers."

Scientists from the European Network and Africa have spent the last three years working with European funding to standardize the sampling and preservation, documentation, analysis and data processing processes in Africa. Pathologists face major challenges there – especially in regions with high levels of rural infrastructure: Unlike Austria, for example, a pathologist is not available for about 26,000 people but for nine million people, explained Robert Reihs of the Center for Molecular Diagnostics and Research biomedicine. He was a major contributor to the so-called BIBBOX, "a kind of biobanking software store," as Reihs described.

In this "biobanking framework," users will find a variety of open source applications and tools, such as data collection and analysis, online and database creation, management, and biobank data sharing tools. "You don't have to be an IT expert to install tools, you can install them yourself without much support," Reihs says. There is also training and education material on the demo platform. "We're not collecting samples here, we're giving local doctors the opportunity to collect data," Reihs said.

In order to increase the public visibility of Austrian biobanks, so-called lighthouse collections should be introduced in the next five years, which should also serve as models for further development of collections, Zatloukal described. In addition, work will continue on improving sample and data quality, developing new ISO standards and optimizing access control.

service: Information on the European Research Infrastructure, the Austrian node in Graz under and the Graz biobank at

(APA / red, photo: APA / APA (ZWT / Oliver Wolf))