Biobanking is now an integral part of modern-day medical research, and given the comparatively high research budgets of first-world countries, it’s not surprising that most biobanks are established in wealthier parts of the world.
But developing countries struggle with the impacts of disease on a massive scale, so doesn’t it make sense to build biobanks there, as well?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is not exactly clear-cut. For starters, only 10 percent of research is dedicated to diseases that burden developing regions. (See this PDF for more details.) Plus, developing countries typically lack the research capacity and infrastructure needed to support today’s modern facilities.
Even so, more and more people in the medical research community argue that establishing biobanks in developing countries is an effective way to research diseases – and could lead to rapid, exciting and valuable discoveries.
To help bridge the gap, members from the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER) formed the European, Middle Eastern & African Society for Biopreservation & Biobanking (ESBB) in 2010. ESBB is a regional organization that promotes biobanking in developing parts of the world, and the group has already held two annual conferences, one in France and one in Spain.
This year’s conference will be held in October in Verona, Italy, and it will focus on “Biobanking for the Future.”
To promote attendance by scientists from developing nations, ESBB has established a travel fellowship which provides up to 2,000 euros for travel, accommodations and registration for residents of Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) group A and B countries. (Note: Group A and B countries and are classified based on a number of wealth factors and can receive free or reduced price access to medical research through HINARI.)
The conference will also feature a “Research Biobank of the Year competition,” where participants nominate and vote on a top biobank.
Clearly, establishing biobanks in developing countries presents a formidable set of challenges. For example, refrigeration of biosamples is expensive and requires a reliable electrical supply. Advances in sequencing technology, however, now allow genomics studies to be performed from dried blood spots (which don’t require refrigeration), a technique likely to gain acceptance in developing countries with under-developed infrastructures. Biobanks in developing nations also must address ethical concerns associated with collecting and storing samples from people of different cultures, as well as logistical issues of sample collection in regions with limited access to medical facilities.
ESBB’s mission to tackle these challenges while advancing the field of biobanking is a great start, and it will be fascinating to watch how biobanking changes in developing countries over the coming years. Do you think ESBB has the right approach? How can the world enable biobanking growth in some of the most disease-stricken regions? Let us know in the comments below!