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Experts discuss the ethics of biobanking at China conference

The ethical challenges surrounding biobanking - collection and storage of biological samples for genomic research - were the focus of a conference which brought together scientists, doctors, ethicists and sociologists from China and Europe.

Speakers at the four-day event in Shenzhen, China discussed the best ways to ensure the consent of donors, quality control of samples when collected and good storage practices of the samples as well as ways to protect privacy of personal information on electronic databases. The workshop was organised by BIONET - a network of researchers in China and Europe, based at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Developments in genomic research and have led to renewed interest in building up collections of human biological samples together with personal information (such as medical history and lifestyle details) about the individuals providing these samples. It is hoped that research made possible by such biobanks will provide valuable knowledge in the fights against cancer, diabetes, and other debilitating diseases.

Bionet logoAt the same time, practices of biobanking raise a number of ethical challenges concerning, for example, participating individuals' trust, confidentiality regarding their personal information and the question of who should benefit from commercial gains arising from genomic research.

Photograph of Nikolas RoseNikolas Rose, co-ordinating partner in BIONET and Professor of Sociology at LSE, said: 'International collaborations involving biobank-based research - where biological samples for genetic analysis together with personal information are collected from large numbers of individuals - offer exciting prospects in the search for the causes of common disorders such as heart disease and diabetes. The aim of BIONET is to ensure that structures and procedures of ethical governance are an integrated part of such collaborations, especially between Chinese and European scientists'.

One of the key tasks of BIONET, which is financed by the European Commission's Sixth Framework Programme with support from the United Kingdom's Medical Research Council (MRC), is to examine how international collaboration between Chinese and European life scientists should be ethically monitored when there are different legal frameworks, ethical norms and cultural understandings involved.

Host of the workshop, Dr Yang Huanming, from the Beijing Genomics Institute, said: 'In the future, genomic studies will require many more biological samples and this raises a number of ethical challenges. It is only through international collaboration that we can, not only work more efficiently, but also address ethical issues more effectively'.

Dr Ole Doering, BIONET partner and co-organiser of the Shenzhen workshop: 'With biobanking, we have the opportunity to organise issues of ethical governance while this new technology is developing, rather than after'.

For more information on BIONET please visit:

Or contact

In Europe - Ayo Wahlberg +44 (0)20 7107 5201 a.j.wahlbert@lse.ac.uk

In China - Professor Cong Yali +86 10 82801299 ethics@mail.bjmu.edu.cn


5 May 2009