BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - The Confederation of Cancer Biobanks has been set up in the UK to break down barriers hampering cancer research on human samples.

At present, it can be difficult for researchers to assemble sufficient samples - especially of rare cancers - as the number available in a single bank is too small. But as the methods used to prepare and preserve them often differ between repositories, combining samples from more than one bank may generate misleading results.

That shortcoming has more and more serious consequences as tumor and blood samples are becoming increasingly important in cancer research, especially in translational research and drug screening.

The founding member of the confederation is onCore UK, set up earlier this year to work on developing standard protocols and to provide a service for clinical researchers in academe and industry that want to outsource the collection of samples.

onCore is a not-for-profit company, funded by the UK Depart of Health, the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK, and independent of the research community.

Brian Clark, onCore's CEO, said the confederation will lead to the use of common ethical standards in taking samples and common standards for storing them. "Also, by providing access to larger numbers of high-quality samples, it will make possible many research studies that historically have been difficult to carry out."

At its formation, the confederation brings together onCore with the Tayside Tissue Bank, the Glasgow Biobank and the Wales Cancer Biobank. Membership is open to any UK institution that agrees to work the agreed standards.

The establishment of the new body is underpinned by the Human Tissue Act, which came into effect at the beginning of September, governing all collection and use of tissues and organs.

Adrian McNeil, CEO of the Human Tissue Authority, which oversees the act, said one of the benefits of the act is to encourage centralization of samples under a single governance system. "This will benefit researchers who will know where the tissue is stored and can rely on its quality," he said.

While retaining their independent identities and management, members of the confederation will work toward a harmonized system for collection, storage and access to samples and will agree to common ethical and legal standards.

A web-based portal, the Biosample Expeditor Service, will be developed to show researchers all the samples that are available, coupled with anonymous patient information.

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