B3Africa Kick-Off Meeting, South Africa, 24-25 August 2015

The South African National Bioinformatics Institute (SANBI) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) hosted the first meeting of the newly launched B3Africa project on 24–25 August 2015.

B3 Africa – Bridging Biobanking and Biomedical Research across Europe and Africa – joins together 11 partners from African and European countries to develop a collaboration framework and an informatics infrastructure that will accelerate and facilitate biomedical research across the continents to address global health challenges together. Via the Horizon 2020 work programme, the European Commission is providing a budget of about 2 million euros over a period of 3 years for the B3Africa initiative.

Biological specimens have been collected for decades, but only since the late 1990s have biobanks become established in a more systematic way. Biobanks collect and store a variety of (mostly human) samples from tissue, cells, blood, saliva, plasma, or DNA. These samples are essential in biomedical research to understand disease mechanisms and develop new therapies.

“Biobanking has been evolving rapidly in Africa – and specifically in South Africa,” explains SANBI Director Professor Alan Christoffels. “In this context, my laboratory has been working on laboratory information management systems and data standards, in partnership with open-source teams such as a BIKA LIMS and a repository run by Professor Akin Abayomi, based at Stellenbosch University.”

The rapidly evolving African biobanks are invaluable for biomedical research. The collaboration is expected to significantly improve and facilitate the development of better predictive, preventive, and personalized health care worldwide.

“The easy-to-use technical solutions will allow the participation of researchers from different regions regardless of the level of development and networking capabilities,” Christoffels notes, “and will make it possible to include many research institutions as equal partners in the global effort to improve health and well-being.”

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