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Establishing a unified national biobank

Norway’s many biobanks are to be reorganised into a single national research infrastructure. At the same time, the biobanks will undergo modernisation with specialised frozen-storage systems and automated solutions for storing and retrieving biological samples. In addition, new database solutions and information systems will make it easier to link health data to biobank materials.

Project:
Biobank Norway – A national infrastructure for biobanks and biobank related activity

Status: UNDER IMPLEMENTATION


Norway has many excellent biobanks, comprehensive national health registries and several large-scale population studies. Millions of blood samples, genetic samples, and other biological materials from the Norwegian populace have been collected over many years and now comprise a major national resource for research.

Vast potential

 Foto: HUNT Biobank (Photo: HUNT Biobank) Improved national coordination and modern scientific equipment will support the research community in making full use of the enormous research potential of Norway’s biobanks. Scientists believe that biobank materials may, for example, hold the key to many widespread diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

The Research Council hopes that a unified national infrastructure will lead to more research in an area which Norway already has successful research groups and significant advantages compared to many other countries.

National distribution of tasks

An updated, modern infrastructure that allows efficient biobank operations and the streamlined exchange of materials and information between biobanks was high on the list of recommendations in the Research Council’s report Gode biobanker – bedre helse (2008). The Research Council also recommended establishing a national council for biobanks and health data in order to coordinate the activities of hospitals and research institutes in Norway. With the Biobank Norway project, key players and the Research Council are taking decisive steps to achieve satisfactory distribution of tasks at the national level.

The objective is for Norwegian biobanks to function as a unified, common national biobank resource, but with partially decentralised localisation of the actual biological materials.

Investing in new equipment

In addition, investment will be made in new, modern equipment, including freezer units for storage at both -80°C and -20°C as well as an automated system for storing and retrieving biological samples. The aim is to develop databases and improved information and management systems that make it easier to link the large amounts of existing health data in Norwegian registries to the biobanks’ biological materials.

Harmonised with European infrastructure

The European Roadmap for Research Infrastructures identifies biobanks as a critical research infrastructure, and Norway’s overall biobank infrastructure, to be known as Biobank Norway, will be harmonised with Europe’s large-scale biobank infrastructure, the Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure (BBMRI).

Partners

All of Norway’s key scientific communities are involved in the infrastructure: the four major universities (University of Oslo, University of Bergen, University of Tromsø and Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)), the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, and Norway’s four Regional Health Authorities (South-Eastern Norway, Western Norway, Central Norway, and Northern Norway) are all cooperating on the project. NTNU is coordinating the project.

Funding

The Research Council of Norway has awarded NOK 80 million to establish and develop Biobank Norway. Formally, the national infrastructure may be in place as early as the third quarter of 2010. The first major investment will be the automated freezer units. The first procurements will likely be made in the first half of 2011 after competitive bidding.

Timeframe

For practical reasons, the infrastructure will utilise a twin structure with two main nodes, one at HUNT Biobank in Levanger (NTNU) and one associated with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health biobank in Oslo. Within the three-year project period (2011-2013), both biobanks will be upgraded with some of the most advanced technology available in the field. This is expected to lead to increased interest in biobank-based research projects on the part of the Norwegian research community. The goal is to achieve the full utilisation of the wealth of biobank resources – compiled over the course of several decades – during the course of the project period.

Published:
15.09.2010