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It is now becoming commonplace among the cancer research community that the establishment of biobanks is of vital importance for the advancement of cancer research. Biobanks represent a major resource for the identification of molecular signatures, which could with high accuracy provide information on the diagnosis, prognosis or treatment of cancer. However, for individual institutions it is virtually impossible to collect sufficient numbers of comparable samples in a short period of time – especially when it comes to the collection of samples of rarer tumour types.
Large-scale biobank collaborations between institutions face numerous challenges on different levels. In order for the samples to be comparable, similar technical procedures for collection, storage and quality control need to be followed. Rules of access and rules for the use of the tissues need to be clearly defined, and incentives are required for individual institutions to contribute in order to ensure long-term collaboration to share the tissue collected with the larger cancer research community. Last but not least, if the collaboration is to take place across Europe, varying national legislations in place (or not in place) need to be complied with.
A series of articles recently published in the European Journal of Cancer provides an overview of the major achievements and challenges of an ambitious EU funded project, TuBaFrost, devoted to the creation of a European virtual frozen tumour tissue bank on the basis of ‘residual tissue’, aiming to meet the above requirements.1 More specifically, its objectives as specified in its mission statement are to:
“create an innovating virtual European human frozen tumour tissue bank for the whole scientific community, composed of high quality tumour tissue sample collections with a corresponding accurate diagnosis stored in major European cancer centres and universities, searchable through an uncomplicated query system on the Internet, provided with rules for access and use of the tissues” and including “a European code of conduct to comply with the various legal and ethical regulations in the different European countries”.2