Disruptive and avoidable: GDPR challenges to secondary research uses of data

Eur J Hum Genet. 2020 Jun;28(6):697-705. doi: 10.1038/s41431-020-0596-x. Epub 2020 Mar 2.


The advent of the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has posed several significant difficulties for the secondary research uses of data and associated biospecimens and has led to widespread unease within the international biobanking and databanking community. This disruption of research using personal data and associated biospecimens has gone largely unremarked in the professional literature, including in a recent account of GDPR's relationship to biobanking practices published in this journal, which instead advocated even more stringent, and in our view, unnecessary restrictions on research uses of banked data and materials. In this article, we describe challenges that GDPR has posed for biobanks and databanks and for researchers who use those banked resources for secondary research. We discuss the limitations inherent in the few pathways that GDPR makes available for secondary research, given that such pathways rely upon complex and varied laws of individual European Union member states. We advocate mitigation of these difficulties through regulatory guidance in order to allow important scientific research to continue.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Specimen Banks / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Biological Specimen Banks / standards
  • Confidentiality / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Confidentiality / standards
  • European Union
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • United Kingdom