Drivers and constraints to environmental sustainability in UK-based biobanking: balancing resource efficiency and future value.
Samuel G., Sims JM.
BACKGROUND: Biobanks are a key aspect of healthcare research; they enable access to a wide range of heterogenous samples and data, as well as saving individual researchers time and funds on the collection, storage and/or curation of such resources. However, biobanks are also associated with impacts associated with a depletion of natural resources (energy, water etc.) production of toxic chemicals during manufacturing of laboratory equipment, and effects on biodiversity. We wanted to better understand the biobanking sector in the UK as a first step to assessing the environmental impacts of UK biobanking. METHODS: We explored the sample storage infrastructure and environmental sustainability practices at a number of UK biobanks through a mixed methods quantitative and qualitative approach, including information gathering on an online platform, and eight in-depth interviews. RESULTS: Environmental sustainability was deprioritised behind biobanks' financial sustainability practices. Nevertheless, both often aligned in practice. However, there was a tendency towards underutilisation of stored samples, the avoidance of centralisation, and providing accessibility to biosamples, and this conflicted with valuing sustainability goals. This related to notions of individualised and competitive biobanking culture. Furthermore, the study raised how value attachments to biosamples overshadows needs for both financial and environmental sustainability concerns. CONCLUSIONS: We need to move away from individualised and competitive biobanking cultures towards a realisation that the health of the publics and patients should be first and foremost. We need to ensure the use of biosamples, ahead of their storage ('smart attachments'), align with environmental sustainability goals and participants' donation wishes for biosample use.