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What is a Biobank?

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A biobank is an organized entity with a governance in place, responsible for the management of biological resources.

Biobanks are not only intended for research, but also for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. In that context, biobanks contain samples of human and non-human origin, such as liquid, tissue, bacterial, or other type of samples.

These samples are associated with data describing sample history, sampling method, sample treatment, and the analysis outcomes. These samples are used within research projects for the development of new treatments or new technologies.

Research activities require a large number of samples to obtain meaningful results. However, finding a sufficient number of patients with specific characteristics (lifestyle, age, sex, pathology, or genetic factor) available is an overwhelming challenge, especially for a small country like Switzerland. Therefore, it is essential to develop a network of biobanks, which are accessible and whose samples are qualified according to pre-established citeria. As such, all biobanking activities; sample collection, transport, treatment and preparation, storage, and distribution, should be regulated, harmonized, and valued.

Any Swiss biobank must be accountable, responsible, and have appropriate governance, as established by the law.

Governance

Governance is a comprehensive concept that includes policy making (regulatory bodies, statutes, and other legal instruments) and less formal mechanisms (advisory boards, biobanking policies, professional values, and organization culture) to dictate behavioral norms. The key elements of appropriate governance are decision-makers, institution, procedures, policies, and everyday practice. In other words, governance defines how the biobank acts and works.

Harmonized biobanks give access to high-quality samples.

Any biobank in Switzerland has to meet the national and international legal requirements as well as be compliant with ethical and quality standards.

Biobanks in Switzerland

Currently, several Swiss research and medical institutions have on-site biobanks, which only meet cantonal and institutional criteria. These biobanks are often not recognized not even by the institutions hosting them. Access to these biological resources can thus be arduous. Furthermore, the Swiss population is small and unaware of the existence and role of the biobanks in the research landscape. As a result, Swiss research lacks biological resources, struggling to remain competitive internationally.

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