The International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER) Annual meeting was held from May 20-24 at the Walt Disney Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, Florida. The meeting facilitated the theme of “Fact not Fantasy: Evidence Based Biobanking.”, thus providing a global platform for discussion of operational and scientific issues relevant to biological and environmental biorepositories. The AstridBio team had a chance to meet with the 2013-2014 ISBER President, Dr. Fey Betsou as we hope to discuss some promising opportunities in biobanking development in the near future.
Attendees experienced a well-rounded experience of corporate workshops, oral and poster presentations, exhibits and networking receptions that focused on conversations that enable evidence-based biobanking from collection to proper usage of quality biological and environmental samples. AstridBio participated in the 79-booth exhibit by displaying its latest research data management system, the SmartBiobank. The exhibit was a great way to meet other players in the market that focus on latest technologies in biobank management.
Among the many talks, one that drew a lot of interest was Ms. Monique Albert’s talk on financial sustainability of biobanks. Ms. Albert is the Director of the Ontario Tumor Bank and has faced a recurring issue that is relevant to many existing biobanks: financial sustainability of the biobanks over time and a decent return on investment. Currently, funding agencies and academic institutions spend millions of dollars on structuring and maintaining biobanks, hoping to independently sustain the biobanks in the future. This expectation is usually burnt down to reality when biobank operators realize that it is hard to predict the researcher and biotech industry future needs. The biobanking landscape is highly diverse with different purposes behind the existence of each biobank, whether it is a general or research-oriented biobank and there is an overall lack of universal understanding of the value of biobanks among investors and stakeholders, making it harder to secure capital.
Another interesting topic of discussion was the practical implementation of the vast number of samples stored at biobanks. Is the massive collection of biospecimens leading to fruitful research results that ultimately lead to better healthcare? Biobank research is rapidly growing and the size of biospecimen sample collection is increasing exponentially. While this opens up new doors for research and diagnostic opportunities, it also raises some challenges in terms of storage and governance of these samples. The cost of disposal of unused specimens and samples is relatively high, leading to an added challenge in sustaining these biobanks financially over a long period of time. There are a lot of practical implementation issues relating to privacy and confidentiality of research participants, setting up IT systems that report and track specimens as well as human resources costs related to the training and education of research professionals.
A wide variety of exhibits at the ISBER Annual Meeting 2014 concentrated on technology that facilitates transparency and easy sharing of data across various research jurisdictions. There has been an obvious change in focus from general biobanks that use a LIMS to track biospecimens to research data management systems that are able to integrate biospecimen tracking data with clinical and experimental data in order to promote collaborative biomedical research. We look forward to attending the ISBER Annual Meeting and Exhibits in 2015, to be held May 5-9, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona, USA.