When you bring together people that tackle a problem from different angles, you are more likely to find an innovative solution. That is the idea behind initiatives that call for large-scale research consortia, such as the Horizon2020 programme of the European Commission. In the last decade, collaborations across different countries and sectors have certainly pushed science and innovation forward. One thing these EU consortia have revealed, which has always been an underlying problem, is the need for standardisation.
In research, standardisation is not only needed when performing experiments and analysing data, but also in the earlier steps. Standardised specimen collection and processing procedures are essential to reduce pre-analytical variation. This should be a particular concern for biomarker studies, where history has shown us that discovery does not equal clinical application. Indeed, every year there are hundreds of papers published about the discovery of “potential biomarkers”, yet only a few handfuls have actually been approved for diagnostic or prognostic use.
A way in which EU consortia, especially those including a prospective collection of biospecimens, can ensure standardisation is to use a central biobank and optimised and validated protocols. Even when samples have already been collected, a central biobank can be used retrospectively to gather all the data, allowing users to check availability and compare samples.
One EU consortium, which has done exactly that, is BIOMARKAPD (Biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease). BIOMARKAPD is funded by the EU Joint Programme – Neurodegenerative Disease research () and was designed to standardise the assessment of existing assays and validate new fluid biomarkers for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In a recent publication in Frontiers in Neurology, the consortium members describe how IBBL (Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg) was used as a central biobank for BIOMARKAPD.1
Cerebrospinal fluid and blood samples were collected from 14 centres across Europe according to standardised pre-analytical procedures. Similarly, samples were processed and stored at IBBL in compliance with several international standards and best practices. Together with the consortium partners, IBBL has also developed a web-based IT platform that captured all the clinical and biological data related to the BIOMARKAPD samples stored at IBBL. In addition, the platform works as a virtual biobank by providing information on the samples available at the local biobank of each consortium partner. To simplify logistics, one of the biobank’s project managers oversees the collections and sample requests from consortium partners and external parties.
BIOMARKAPD now has a collection of standardised samples and data from over 400 subjects, in addition to the 8,600 subjects in the virtual biobank, which are available for validation studies for new biomarkers and assays andas of early 2016. This is a prime example of the added value a biobank can bring to a large-scale consortium and the importance of getting a biobank on board from the get-go. Having a reliable partner that can support the standardisation of samples and provide long-term storage, allows researchers to make the best use of the samples, an important issue for both funding bodies and sample donors.
1B. Reijs, C. E. Teunissen, N. Goncharenko ,F. Betsou, K. Blennow, I. Baldeiras, F. Brosseron, E. Cavedo, T. Fladby, L. Froelich, T. Gabryelewicz, H. Gurvit, E. Kapaki, P. Koson, L. Kulic, S. Lehmann, P. Lewczuk, A. Lleó, W. Maetzler, A. de Mendonça, A.-M. Miller, J. L. Molinuevo, B. Mollenhauer, L. Parnetti, U. Rot, A. Schneider, A. H. Simonsen, F. Tagliavini, M. Tsolaki, M. M. Verbeek, M. Zboch, F. R. Verhey, B. Winblad, P. Scheltens, H. Zetterberg, P. Jelle. Frontiers in Neurology, 15 October 2015, doi: 10.3389/fneur.2015.00216