The University of Regensburg, Germany, introduces BRoTHER, a new Central European network designed to promote digitalisation in biobanking
The interaction of biobanks will become more and more important to enable the set-up of relevant collectives and collaborations for basic and translational research. Especially in rare diseases, a multicentre approach is crucial to ensure the inclusion of significant numbers of biobank specimens in an appropriate time. Digitalisation – and the possibility to share data, information and knowledge by digitalisation – represents an important issue within the networking of different biobanks which are active in the clinical context.
The interaction and co-operation of biobanks of different countries have to overcome special challenges, even if these countries are located within the European Union. The BRoTHER (Biobank Research on Telemedical Approaches for Human Biobanks in a European Region) project, which is supported by a grant of the Bavarian-Czech University Agency with funding from the Bavarian State Ministry of Finance, is designed to analyse the obstacles which have to be overcome if clinical-related biobanks from two national healthcare systems wish to collaborate and set up common biobank projects.
Partners of the projects are two Bavarian institutions and two Czech institutions.
Biobanking, as a pillar of personalised medicine, represents a pivotal prerequisite for further developments in personalised medicine. In this context, building networks of biobanks represents a crucial element to enable large multi-centre clinical trials, especially in the research of rare diseases.
An important prerequisite for the appropriate exchange of biobank specimens for its potential use in research projects represents the harmonisation of the pre-analytical workflow, the quality control management of the biobank workflow, and the protocols of the analytical methods of the connected biobanks. On a European level the Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure – European Research Infrastructure Consortium (BBMRI-ERIC) is the biggest and the most important network infrastructure for biobanks in Europe.
BBMRI is a European leader in biobanking and is crucially involved in further developments of the biobank idea. Within BBMRI and BBMRI-ERIC great effort is being made to harmonise various aspects of biobanking at the European level. However, beside this great network, regional biobank networks with a smaller number of partners could also give an innovative input in the biobanking idea.
Regional biobank networks have to harmonise a smaller number of different local workflows, management systems and local regulations. In this context, we hope that the harmonisation of our regional biobank network could be finished within an appropriate time so that we can begin to set up common research projects. Such regional networks could neither be seen as a template for the interaction of biobanks on the European level, nor as a competition of the great European networks.
However, one important aim of BRoTHER (Fig. 1) is not only to identify various obstacles within the implementation of harmonisation at the member biobanks, but to monitor the way in which harmonisation problems are solved and try to find new innovative solutions.
The monitoring of the harmonisation process and the troubleshooting within our regional network could be inspiring for a greater network. The communication and the exchange with relevant European networks such as BBMRI-ERIC is given by the fact that some of the members of BRoTHER could also play an active role within these networks.
In addition, the monitoring and troubleshooting of the first common projects of BRoTHER could also offer valuable information for the other European networks. To enable an optimal collaboration of our regional biobanks, web-based tools for data exchange are mandatory if we seek to guarantee the long-term success of such a network. In this context, the digitalisation of a smaller biobank network seems to be less complicated. With this in mind, we are convinced that the regional biobank network will significantly improve the translational and basic research within the connected partners and yield interesting information to BBMRI-ERIC.
New projects, new networks
The aim of BRoTHER is to create a prototype of a digital pathology.
framework in which secondary consultations regarding biobank specimens could be conducted remotely for accurate tissue diagnosis and the potential use in a research project (i.e. tele-pathology, Fig. 2). Therefore, we believe that employing the mature enough Whole Slide Imaging (WSI) and Virtual Microscopy (VM) technologies in a regional network of tissue biobanks will not only provide access to such expertise, but will also create new research projects within that network.
Furthermore, by comparing the produced histological slides of the stored tissue samples between the connected biobanks, an interactive discussion regarding tissue storage and pre-analytics will be promoted. Therefore, our framework will include the possibility of interactive standard operation procedures (SOPs) development regarding tissue sampling, pre-analytics and tissue storage techniques. Thus, the network will promote future collaboration projects due to harmonised SOPs. A so-called ‘minimal information set’ regarding the histo-pathological information which should be part of a biobank specimen evaluation prior to potential inclusion in a research project will be established (Fig.3).
To train the handling of the digital pathology framework and the application of the SOPs within the infrastructure of the connected biobanks, a training programme will be established for biobank staff. After three years of developing and evaluation, this workshop will be open for all interested members of human biobanks.
Through public events the consortium will inform the public in the participating regions regarding the need and the function of biobanking for healthcare, especially with a view to the need for the collaborative work of biobanks. Thus, the BRoTHER project integrates the inter-regional co-operation on both the scientific and public levels.
In conclusion, BRoTHER represents an interactive, bilateral, inter-regional biobank network in the centre of Europe. Its aim is to harmonise biobank infrastructures and activities related to effective international collaboration and experience exchange, workflows and the integration of study programmes development. With that the performance of clinical trials with biobank specimens should be facilitated between Bavaria and the Czech Republic. Its location in the centre of Europe enables the network to set the example for effective inter-regional co-operation, and thus could act in the future as an innovative nucleus for interconnected biobanking.
Christoph Brochhausen & Matthias Evert, Institute of Pathology, University Regensburg
Karl-Friedrich Becker, Institute of Pathology, Technical University of Munich, Germany
Judita Kinkorova & Ondrej Topolcan, University Hospital Pilsen
Dalibor Valik, Masaryk University, Faculty of Medicine, Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute, Brno, Czech Republic