Photo: interplast (flickr)
Have you ever wondered where medical scientists get tissue samples for their research? If you’re a neuroscientist studying brain tumors; where would you find enough tumors to study?
The answer is that you’d make a withdrawal from a biobank. A biobank is a repository of tissue samples–things like blood, DNA, tumors and other biological samples. Major research institutions like universities and the National Cancer Institute have their own biobanks that collect samples from donors and make them available to researchers.
One problem, though, is that individual biobanks typically don’t share their resources with everyone. For example, the National Cancer Institute has a network of biobanks. But if you’re not doing cancer research or not affiliated with the National Cancer Institute, it can be hard to access its biobank. Plus, there are no national or global standards for how biobanks store their material.
However, the European Union is currently building an international biobank network. It will connect all the biobanks in Europe and make the combined resources available to researchers around the world.
Some experts think that’s what’s needed in the United States. They say what we need is a national database to allow scientists to search the contents of biobanks throughout North America. And scientists need easy access to tissue samples from all biobanks.
Biobanks tend to guard their resources pretty closely, yet many people think that the best way to cure disease is to make resources available to everyone.