Over the next 3, 5, and 10 years, biobanking networks are expected to have a significant impact across various areas, including human biomedical research and healthcare, environmental protection, food sciences, animal welfare, or artificial intelligence-driven solutions. As research methodologies and analysis become more sophisticated, there will be a critical need for standardised, high-quality and traceable research materials of diverse origin; consisting of both biospecimens and associated data. Biobanks are prepared to take over to become the primary infrastructure for providing such research materials, surpassing project-based academic or even industrial collections.
However, the realization of this promising future heavily relies on the guidance and active involvement of international associations and networks. Several challenges still exist, especially on a multinational or global scale, including the lack of workflow and data harmonization, insufficient interoperability among databases and IT-platforms, variations in ethical, legal, and societal issues (ELSI)-related legislation, and a prevailing reluctance among researchers to share materials. What is more, there is currently no consensus among scientists on the definition and special characteristics of biobanking, emphasizing the need for more biobankers and specialists to address these complexities and raise awareness about quality management, harmonization, transparent communication, and the collective benefits of biobanks.
To overcome these challenges, supportive communities of trained and experienced biobanking professionals, actively participating in and managing these networks, can bring about a shift in attitudes and work together to foster the important missions and visions of modern biobanks. By supporting tools and facilitating collaboration and cooperation between all involved stakeholders (all over the world), these networks have the potential to pave the way for a successful and impactful future in biobanking.
Short-term provisions (for the next 3 years):
- Standardization and harmonization: Biobanking networks will continue to focus on establishing and communicating standardized procedures, protocols and best practice guidelines for a diverse range of sample collection, processing, storage, distribution and also, for data management. Developing and releasing IT-tools will follow to ensure the interoperability of data-sharing systems and databases among different biobanks and countries to facilitate large-scale collaboration.
- Quality assurance: Biobanking networks will tightly emphasize the implementation of robust quality assurance measures, such as those in ISO standards, not only applicable to facilities but also to certain workflows with defined specimens. There will be a growing demand from industry partners, grant funding bodies and also, scientific journals to accept research proposals, results, or material of justified quality (e.g. from accredited, or “friendly-audited” infrastructures and through certified methods) and the networks will take an active part of the evaluation processes.
- Enhanced multi-sector collaborations: Biobanking networks will strengthen collaborations among academia, industry partners, and regulatory bodies, by inviting them into large consortial projects with sustainable funding opportunities.
Mid-term provisions (for the next 5 years):
- Expansion of biobank types and scopes: Biobanking networks will strive to broaden the range of samples and data collected. This may include the incorporation of vulnerable communities, collection of longitudinal samples, integration of multi-omics data and inclusion of more environmental and lifestyle data to enable comprehensive analyses. The networks will be key advocates in public communication about the importance of their voluntary, active participation in this form of biobanking.
- Biobanking law adaptations and formations: The networks will inspire lawmakers to polish their country’s existing biobanking-and data management laws and regulations according to the upcoming trends. They will have a pivotal role in connecting experienced legal professionals with the key-opinion leaders in those nations, where no biobanking laws exist. By promoting participation in longitudinal settings, the need for dynamic consenting platforms will be on the rise in the majority of European countries which will be consolidated by a united EU legal framework.
- Globalization: More networks will emerge and existing networks will involve more low-and middle-income countries or country-independent global organisations to diversify their current activities and because of the recognized need for smoothing global inequalities in advanced research support. Additionally, efforts will be made to involve more Middle-Eastern, African and Asian partners in large initiatives.
- Biobanking for AI: After the skyrocketing popularity of the publicly available AI-tools, biobanks will also increasingly leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms to analyze multi-dimensional large datasets, identify patterns, and make predictions using their datasets. Voice-banks and message-banks, Imaging centers and other types of biospecimen-free databanks will gather around in high numbers and the networks will release special taskforces, forums, and events for assisting their special needs.
Long-term provisions (for the next 10 years):
- Integration with digital health technologies: Biobanking networks will integrate with emerging digital health technologies such as wearable devices, mobile applications, telemedicine (including voice-based biomarker recognition) and electronic health records. This integration will enable real-time data capture, remote monitoring, and continuous participant engagement, allowing for more precise and personalized tools.
- Environmental and public health initiatives: Biobanking networks will actively contribute to such initiatives. The focus from precision medicine will be shifted towards environmental protection, with supporting more biodiversity and environmental biobanks, and higher attention on health and wellness, rather than disease. By analyzing data from diverse populations and integrating it with epidemiological information, biobanks can help identify risk factors, study disease trends, and inform preventive strategies.
- Broad biobanking education: A broad palette of biobanking-specific educational opportunities will be available and widely accessible. The networks will be actively contributing to the development of interdisciplinary university-bound programs that cover the technical, regulatory, ethical, quality-related and managerial/business aspects of biobanking and they will be launching by their own university-independent training programs. Full masters and PhD programs and short-term postgraduate courses will be launched on each continent in multiple countries of choice.
- Medical University of Graz, MSc CE Biobanking, Module 10_Strategy and Development, Networks, 2023.
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