Home » Clinical Trials » Critical role of biobanks in clinical trials and how to sustain them

Professor Richard Flavin

Director and Chairman, Biobank Ireland Trust

Clinical trials across Ireland are utilising biological samples stored in biobanks to advance understanding of disease and develop tailored medications.

In recent decades, recognition of the central role of biological specimens in disease understanding, biomarker identification and targeted therapy development has surged. This has led to the widespread establishment of biobanks as vital repositories, offering researchers access to essential biological samples and data for various studies.

Biobanks supporting clinical practice

Prof Richard Flavin, Director and Chairman of Biobank Ireland Trust, explains the importance of biobanks for medical research. “A biobank collects patient samples and associated healthcare data, samples are then used to answer important clinical research questions — samples help us to understand how the human body behaves in health and disease, helping us develop new treatments,” he says.

Biobank Ireland Trust, a charity established in 2004, facilitates the development of hospital-based biobank networks in Ireland, enabling translational research collaborations and clinical trials. Prof Flavin explains: “We work with a number of biobanks in different areas of health, including cancer research, Covid-19 and more.”

We work with a number of biobanks
in different areas of health, including
cancer research, Covid-19 and more.

Biobank application in breast cancer trial

Biobanks accelerate research aimed at developing medicines and treatments. They bridge the gap between the patient and the development of precise, tailored treatment options. One such example is Trastuzumab, developed through a health research biobank and used in breast cancer treatment.

Challenges in sustaining biobanks

However, accessing samples from biobanks requires researchers to navigate stringent regulations encompassing ethical and legal considerations. Comprehensive patient consent and data regulatory procedures established nationally and at an EU level must be strictly adhered to. Furthermore, the effectiveness of biobanks in facilitating clinical trial delivery hinges on securing adequate funding.

Prof Flavin explains: “Biobanks are the keystone for advancements in medicine, but they are lacking sufficient funding and resources. We need further investment in infrastructure, staffing and equipment.”

To sustain the advantages afforded by biobanks, public and patient involvement is key. Strict data confidentiality measures are in place, empowering individuals to engage with biobanks that play a pivotal role in advancing research.

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