Developments in European biobanking

8 July 2010

The UK Biobank has announced that it has exceeded the original recruitment target of 500,000 individuals aged 40-69. However, in many senses the work is just beginning as the project follows participants over time to follow their health outcomes and attempt to correlate this with genetic, clinical and environmental data already held. Chief scientist Dr Tim Sprosen it could be another decade or more before major research findings began to emerge, commenting: "In 10 or 20 years time, we will be able to analyse things in the samples that researchers haven't even thought about yet…We are custodians of this resource. The next generation of scientists, who might still be in primary school today, will use new tests and be able to unlock new secrets as to how we prevent disease" (see BBC news).
Meanwhile, plans for a German biobank are proceeding; the German National Cohort will be smaller than the UK version, seeking to recruit 200,000 participants, but in addition to including a wider age range (healthy adults between 20 and 69), the project will also involve more detailed clinical analysis, to include repeat medical examinations after five years and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning of the major organs of 40,000 participants to look for early signs of disease. Feasibility and pilot studies are reportedly to be funded by the Helmholtz Association, whilst German governmental agencies are being asked to fund the main part of the initiative (see Financial Times article).
Europe is currently enjoying rapid growth in both the number of national biobanks and efforts to build co-operative networks between biobanks, such as via the European Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure or EuroBiobank (see previous news). However, there are also concerns about the difficulty in securing appropriate, reliable funding for such long-term projects (see Science Business blog).

A planned new facility at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden hopes to create the world’s largest biobank by creating a national infrastructure to join individual Swedish biobank projects (see Swedish Research Council). 

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