Does the biobank hold the key to achieving universal health?

[NEW DELHI] Increasing the availability of high-quality biological samples through biobanks has the potential to advance global health research and accelerate progress towards sustainable development goals such as achieving universal health coverage, learned a United Nations scientific summit.

Biobanking is the process by which samples of bodily fluids or tissues are collected, annotated, stored, and redistributed for research to improve understanding of health and disease.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the value of this collection and processing of samples and related data, as scientists strive to develop effective vaccines and treatments.

“The biobank is essential to support SDG3 – good health and well-being – by supporting the discovery of new treatments for major health challenges. “

Zisis Kozlakidis, International Agency for Research on Cancer

“The biobank is essential to support SDG3 – good health and well-being – by supporting the discovery of new treatments for major health challenges,” said virologist Zisis Kozlakidis, one of the speakers at the Science Summit in line, organized during the United Nations General Assembly. Assembly in New York.

Developed in 2015 by UN Member States, the SDGs are “a common project” to achieve, by 2030, a better and sustainable future for all. The 17 goals include eradicating poverty and hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture, and ensuring healthy lives around the world.

Kozlakidis, who heads the laboratory services and biobank group at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in Lyon, France, explained that medical research is based on the analysis of samples and – because the associations in many diseases are often weak – these samples are needed in large quantities.

“The implication is clear: if more well-characterized, high-quality samples are available in biobanks, faster research will advance and impact the faster delivery of precision healthcare today under of ODD3, ”Kozlakidis added.

At the summit meeting on September 22, Kozlakidis explained how data collected in routine clinical health care can be reused for research, to improve health services in an increasingly digital age. . “We have seen that the application of artificial intelligence has brought a new era of possibilities and promise, but it requires working with large-scale, high-quality data. [as found in some biobanks]. “

He added that the digital health model implemented in high-income countries should be adjusted for resource-limited environments.

Kurt Zatloukal, professor of pathology at the University of Medicine in Graz, Austria, said at the meeting: “Biobanks harbor human samples like tumors which are removed by surgery, [and] blood taken during diagnostics, and these biological materials contain very detailed information about human diseases. This knowledge of human diseases lays the foundation for the development of new diagnostics and new drugs. “

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Data generated by biological samples is a key resource for the digital transformation of health systems, he suggested.

Global biobank revenues will surpass $ 53 billion in 2027, according to Zatloukal, who highlighted one of the main challenges biobanks face: The pharmaceutical industry is required to provide funding, but patients remain reluctant to do so. their samples available to pharmaceutical companies.

“[To] tackle this problem, a model [has been] developed called Expertise centersZatloukal said at the top. In this concept, he said, sending or selling biological samples to industry directly by biobanks is avoided because it involves joint funding and contributions from public and private companies, with data and knowledge shared between the two.

“This model of transforming organic raw material into knowledge and data [can] also be used to enable international collaboration, ”he said.

Fredrick Chite Asirwa, Executive Director and Managing Director of the International Cancer Institute in Kenya, said more should also be done to address the challenges facing biobanks in Africa, including by raising awareness among healthcare professionals, policy makers and patients, and promoting the infrastructure and networks needed to support biobanks.

“More [important] are the ethical and legal implications of creating biobanks, so the processes that we are developing are actually very responsive to the issues that are currently being posed in our systems, ”he said.

This article was produced by the global office of SciDev.Net.

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