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What is a Biobank?

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A biobank is an organised entity responsible for the governance and the management  of biological resources.

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

These samples are associated with a list of data describing sample history, sampling method, sample treatment, and the analysis outcomes. These samples are used for the development of new treatments or new technologies and for scientific publications.

Research activities require a considerable amount of samples to obtain meaningful results. However, finding a sufficient number of patients having specific characteristics (lifestyle, age, sex, pathology, or genetic factor) available to consent to sampling 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 meet pre-established, equal quality standards. Thus, every biobanking activity, such as the sample collection, the transport, the treatment and preparation, the storing, and the distribution, should be regulated, harmonised, 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 the regulation (regulatory bodies, statutes, and other legal instruments) and less formal mechanisms (advisory boards, biobanking policies, professional values, and organization culture) that dictate behavioral norms. Therefore, the key elements of appropriate governance are decision-makers, institution, procedures, policies, and everyday practice. In other words, the governance defines how the biobank acts and works.

Harmonized biobanks give access
to high-quality samples.

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

Biobanks in Switzerland

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

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