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Biospecimen and Biobanking Practices in East Africa

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Biospecimen and Biobanking Practices in East Africa

The collection of human tissue, or biospecimens materials, is a critical process in biomedical research in areas as diverse as cancer research to tropical medicine. However, the collection, storage (biobanking), and sharing practices of human samples or biospecimens (blood, semen, breastmilk, foreskins, vaginal secretions, tissue) have raised many concerns among scientists and communities, resulting in legal cases, new regulations, and policy changes (Van Assche, Gutwirth, Sterckx, 2013). 

In Kenya, biospecimens continue to be collected and, too often, shipped abroad for storage in the Global North, raising concerns about how those biospecimens are being shared, used, and eventually disposed of. Many Western researchers argue that the region doesn’t have the scientific infrastructure required for biobanking, yet this isn’t accurate. It has some of the continent’s leading infrastructure due to investment resulting from HIV/AIDS science in the region. 

We propose a collaborative workshop to explore the racial, ethical, and cultural controversies, networks, and collaborations that would facilitate the advancement of human biobanking in East Africa. We ask: How might East African scientific infrastructure be strengthened to support biospecimen storage and its local regulation? The purpose of our workshop is twofold: 1) To begin to document and understand the processes, practices, and ethical challenges among researchers for collecting, transporting, sharing, storing, and either disposing or repatriating human biological samples in global health clinical trials; and 2) to develop a new, multidisciplinary international team of researchers with a commitment to further exploring the ethics of biobanking and questions about data sovereignty among East African communities socialized for scarcity


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