National Biobanking Summit

In an important step for moving biobanking forward in Australia, the first National Biobanking Summit was held on Monday 21st October 2019 at the University of Sydney.

The National Biobanking Summit was co-convened by Professor Jennifer Byrne (Director of Biobanking, NSW Health Pathology and Professor of Molecular Oncology, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney) and Professor Sunil Lakhani (Executive Director Research; Head, Breast Pathology Group, University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research and Pathology Queensland) and organised by a National Biobanking Working Group. It brought together 90 experts at both state and national levels, to begin a national conversation about what we need in Australia.

Representatives from New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory attended, with areas of expertise covering biobanking as well as policy, clinical care, health and medical research, data management and linkage and very importantly, consumer perspectives. The current ISBER President-Elect Associate Professor Dan Catchpoole attended as a delegate from New South Wales, as well as Pam Saunders, President of the Australasian Biospecimens Network Association (ABNA).

“Inviting many key experts from different fields across the country was vital to encouraging broad conversations,” said Professor Byrne.

The focus of the summit was to discuss biobanking strategy in light of a two-year National Collaborative Research Infrastructure funded Scoping Study on national biobanking, which is scheduled to commence in July 2020.

The summit was opened by Dr Tony Penna, Executive Director, Office for Health and Medical Research.

Professor Jennifer Byrne delivered a welcome and overview of the summit aims and planned conversations and activities, followed by a presentation by Professor Sunil Lakhani on ‘biobanking: building a sustainable infrastructure in Australia.’ He talked about some of the biggest issues we face, remarked on the importance of pathology in biobanking and proposed a structured national biobanking approach.

“We wanted to get our delegates thinking early in the program, so that their best ideas could come forward throughout the day,” said Professor Byrne.

Summit attendees also heard a thought provoking presentation by Internationally renowned biobanking expert, Professor Peter Watson. Professor Watson gave ‘The Canadian perspective in the biobanking landscape’, speaking about the evolution of biobanking and the Canadian model of biobank harmonisation. The model is supported by an accessible and scalable certification program based on biobank and laboratory staff education. This certification program has been adapted for use by NSW Health Pathology and made available from 2016.

Professor Watson summarised that “what we need is an integrated, harmonised and responsive system.”

The final item in the morning program was a state overview, with brief presentations from state representatives to inform the group about what is happening at local levels and how that could inform a national model of biobanking.

For the afternoon sessions, representatives were grouped into their areas of expertise; health consumers, biobankers, researchers, clinicians, government and peak body representatives, and data specialists. Each group was tasked with discussing and then reporting their current view of biobanking, views on what needs to change, thoughts on what they could learn from other initiatives, and other stakeholders that should be involved in developing a national biobanking strategy.

“We were so grateful for the engagement that all delegates showed during the discussion session. People are really passionate about the importance of biobanking for future health and medical research”, said Professor Byrne.

In summary, despite the complex biobanking landscape and challenges with biobank sustainability and harmonisation, it was agreed that biobanking is an essential part of our health and medical research infrastructure.

The summit concluded with a common agreement and enthusiasm from attendees that a national framework for biobanking in Australia is needed. A number of attendees finished off the summit with a tour of our NSWHSB facility.

A full report of the summit is being developed and updates will be made available on the NSW Health Statewide Biobank website. You can also subscribe to our newsletter for updates.  

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