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BBMRI-ERIC’s contribution to health research capacity building in Africa

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Wednesday, 5 April 2017

COMECE - Square de Meeûs, 19, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium


BBMRI-ERIC (http://www.bbmri-eric.eu/) in collaboration with B3Africa on 5th April 2017 in Brussels organized a roundtable, which explored how to develop health research collaboration with African partners in order to address global challenges.


The roundtable, entitled “Biobanking collaboration with Africa: BBMRI-ERIC’s contribution to health research capacity building in Africa”, addressed two key themes. The first was to explore and understand how to best develop collaboration to put in place and support capacity building for biobanking and biomolecular resources, based on the experience of BBMRI-ERIC and the B3Africa project. The second theme examined the aspect of data protection regarding the use of and access to data, relevant to biobanking. The references for this discussion were the EU General Data Protection Regulation and its potential impacts on use of personal data as it pertains to biobanking collaboration with Europe's partners in Africa. It also considered the data protection situation in Africa.


The meeting presented case studies and examples of best practices, including the B3Africa initiative (http://www.b3africa.org/), which combines African and EU capability in biobanking. The meeting also developed input in advance of the EU-Africa Summit later this year.


Biobanks have been recognized as a particular strength for European research, significantly contributing to study of the environmental and genetic causes of disease as well as making the development of drugs and diagnostic tools more efficient. Africa, with 16% of worlds’ population, has recently seen an increase in non-communicable diseases, and is disproportionately burdened with infectious diseases. When tackling this the situation is worsened by struggling public health systems, weak regulatory environments, lack of resources and appropriate infrastructure, as well as limited data on genomics, with often Western-centric interpretations. There is clearly a need for enhanced scientific cooperation and engagement.




09h00  Prof Jan-Eric LITTON, BBRMI-ERIC: BBMRI and Africa


09h30  Discussion


09h40  Dr Mahama OUEDRAOGO, Head of Division, Human Resources, Science and Technology Department, African Union Commission


09h50  Dr Maimuna MENDY, Head, Laboratory Services and Biobank Group (LSB), Office of the Director (DIR) International Agency for Research on Cancer


10h20 Dr Eric MWANGI, Director for International Cooperation, Ministry of Science and Technology, Kenya


10h30  Discussion


10h45 Coffee break


11h00  Prof Akin ABAYOMI, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa


11h30  Discussion


11.45   Dr Michaela MAYRHOFER, BBMRI-ERIC

What the GDPR means for science cooperation


12h05  Declan Kirrane, ISC


12h15  Prof Jan-Eric LITTON, BBMRI-ERIC

A GDPR Code of Conduct for/with Africa


12h30  Discussions and recommendations



12h50  Lunch


BBMRI-ERIC (http://bbmri-eric.eu/) is a pan-European research infrastructure which provides access to quality controlled human biological samples, such as blood, tissues, cells or DNA, and associated clinical and research data. It aims to establish, operate and develop a pan-European distributed research infrastructure of biobanks and biomolecular resources in order to facilitate the access to resources as well as facilities and to support high quality biomolecular and medical research. BBMRI-ERIC operates on a non-economic basis. BBMRI-ERIC is set up as a distributed research infrastructure in most, if not all European member states. BBMRI-ERIC consists as of today of 19 member states and one international organisation, making it one of the largest research infrastructures for health research in Europe.


B3Africa (http://www.b3africa.org) aims to implement a cooperation platform and technical informatics framework for biobank integration between Africa and Europe. The collaboration is standardizing the ethical and legal framework, biobank data representation, and bioinformatics pipelines for sharing data and knowledge among biobanks and enabling access for researchers from both continents. The main stakeholders from the relevant initiatives, including the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) project, the European Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure Consortium (BBMRI-ERIC), and the Low- and Middle-Income Countries Biobank and Cohort Building Network (BCNet), collaborate in B3Africa to address the following objectives:

  • Defining an ethical and regulatory framework for biobank data sharing between Europe and Africa
  • Defining data models for representing biobank and research data based on existing best practices, standards, and ontologies
  • Designing an informatics platform using existing open-source software (with the eBioKit and BiBBox as essential modules) to integrate workflows for biobank applications
  • Implementing an education and training system for information and capacity-building
  • Validating the B3Africa concept with existing biobanks from both continents.



B3Africa will provide the critical mass to maximize efficiency in biomedical research, support defragmentation through integration, and enable efficient leverage of existing biobanks and e-infrastructures in Europe and Africa. The technical informatics framework will be designed for easy upscaling and integration with other research infrastructures.



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