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Bridging ‘biobanking’ and biomedical research across Europe and Africa: ‘B3Africa’ launched in Cape Town

Launch of B3Africa in Capetown

ILRI geneticst Steve Kemp (far left) and Erik Bongcam-Rudloff (centre front), of SLU, at the launch of B3Africa in Cape Town 24–25 Aug 2015 (photo credit: B3Africa).

The first meeting of a new project, ‘B3Africa, short for ‘Bridging Biobanking and Biomedical Research across Europe and Africa’, was held this week (24–25 Aug 2015) at the University of the Western Cape, in Cape Town, South Africa.

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

Africa’s rapidly evolving biobanks are invaluable for biomedical research because the African population has the greatest genomic diversity on the planet and represents an incredible resource of information to advance fundamental understanding of health and disease.

Eleven partners from African and European countries are jointly developing a collaboration framework and an informatics infrastructure that will accelerate and facilitate biomedical research across the continents to address global health challenges together. One of the partners is the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which has a livestock-focused biorepository within its animal science laboratories at its headquarters, in Nairobi, Kenya.

About ILRI’s livestock biorepository, Steve Kemp, ILRI geneticist, says:

ILRI’s biorepository allows us to efficiently and safely collect, store and use the biological samples that we collect in the field. But it also allows us to share them with other scientists to address other questions, increasing the value of the material for everyone.

Sampling is a very time-consuming and expensive exercise. We have an ethical and scientific responsibility to make the best use of that effort and money.

The B3Africa project draws together leaders in the field of biobanking to develop common standards and approaches to further increase the usefulness of these precious collections.

The European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program is providing the B3Africa initiative with about EUR2 million in funding for the next three years.

Access to high-quality biological samples is the number one requirement to advance biomedical research.—Jan-Eric Litton, an initiator of the European biobanking infrastructure consortium BBMRI-ERIC

B3Africa has two strategic aims:
1 Create a trusted informatics platform that allows the sharing of bio-resources and data by European and African partner institutions.
2 Provide ‘out-of-the-box’ informatics that facilitate data management, processing and sharing.

Partners in B3Africa
The 11 partners of B3Africa are: Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU); Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure Consortium (BBMRI-ERIC); Karolinska Institutet (KI); Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB) at Uppsala University; University of the Western Cape (UWC); Makerere University (MAK); Stellenbosch University (SU); International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC); International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); Medizinische Universitat Graz (MUG); and the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN).

For further information, contact ILRI collaborator at SLU Erik Bongcam-Rudloff (Erik.bongcam [at]

Read the press release, B3Africa kickoff participants at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa the 24th August 2015, from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 21 Aug 2015.

At ILRI, B3Africa work is conducted within ILRI’s Animal Biosciences program, led by Steve Kemp, and within the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.

About B3Africa
B3Africa—Bridging Biobanking and Biomedical Research across Europe and Africa—is expected significantly to improve and facilitate development of better predictive, preventive and personalized healthcare worldwide. The collaboration harmonizes the ethical and legal frameworks, biobank data representation and bioinformatics pipelines for sharing data and knowledge among biobanks and allowing access for researchers from both continents. Other initiatives that will collaborate with B3Africa include the Human Heredity and Health in Africa project (H3Africa), the European Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources research infrastructure (BBMRI-ERIC) and the LMIC Biobank and Cohort Network (BCNet). They will work together to address the following objectives:
• Define an ethical and regulatory framework for biobank data sharing between Europe and Africa
• Define data models for representing biobank and research data based on existing best practices, standards and ontologies
• Design an informatics platform using existing open-source software (with eBioKit and BiBBox as essential modules) and integrating workflows for biobank applications
• Implement an education and training system for information and capacity building

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