Following a Belgium government decree in 2003, the Flemish Centre of Expertise on Environment and Health was founded by the Department of Economics, Science and Innovation; Flemish Agency for Care and Health; and Department of Environment, Nature and Energy. The mandate was to perform human biomonitoring (HBM), i.e., the measurement of potentially adverse chemicals in samples such as blood, urine, hair, nails, exhaled breath condensate, saliva, and breast milk with concomitant health and lifestyle questionnaires.
As an intrinsic part of the Flemish Environment and Health Studies (FLEHS) programme a biobank was constructed for sample storage at Flanders’ Research and Technology Organisation on Cleantech and Sustainable Development (VITO), known as Biobank@VITO.
An overview of Biobank@VITO was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.
The two main aims of Biobank@VITO are:
- provide a facility where the collection of human samples, gathered over the last two decades, are stored under state-ofthe-art circumstances;
- provide a professional storage facility for future (prospective) biomonitoring initiatives in Flanders and elsewhere;
Both objectives are compliant with respect to the privacy of the participants; General Data Protection Regulation and ethical aspects.
The biobank supports both prospective studies such as the 3xG study, or the various newborn cohorts of the FLEHS cycles and also potential retrospective studies, containing over 55,000 samples from over 7,500 participants.
Studies contributing to the biobank include:
- The first Flemish Environment and Health Study (FLEHS I 2002–2006)
- The FLEHS II (2007–2011)
- The FLEHS III (2012–2015)
- The FLEHS IV (2016–2020)
- The 3xG (Dessel, Mol, and Retie) mother–newborn cohort study
- DEMOCOPHES (DEMOnstration of a study to Coordinate and Perform Human biomonitoring on a European Scale)
The authors concluded that “Biobank@VITO is unique in providing a biological archive of human exposure to environmental chemicals in Flanders. The biobank holds great potential for research on the interaction between health, environment and lifestyle to support policy development in the nexus of environment and health.”