What is biobanking?
The short answer? A biobank is a repository of appropriately preserved biological samples for
the purpose of future scientific research.
However, in the scientific research realm, biobanking far exceeds this simplified explanation.
Back in 2009, Time magazine listed the concept of Biobanking as one of the “10 Ideas
Changing the World Right Now”. They cast the spotlight on how biobanks could elevate the
potential of what information scientists could extract from biological samples and what this might
mean for future research.
Since then, biobanks have become instrumental in scientific advancement in this era of rapidly
emerging methodologies and scientific breakthroughs. What we now understand is that
biobanking is not simply a storage method for biological samples, but a crucial tool in the
preservation of biological data through appropriate logistical management and legislation.
Biobanks serve as long-term, large-scale storage libraries of biological information that can be
accessed in order to answer scientific questions on command.
The requirements for successful biobanking
The Mayo Clinic, located in the state of Minnesota, was an early adopter of the biobank concept
and currently manages one of the largest biobanks for patient samples in the United States.
Recently, their researchers published an informative review that defined the requirements for
the successful operations involved in biobanking. Here, we discuss these considerations in
Eleanor Roosevelt insightfully said: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Before starting a new
biobank collection, there must be a plan!
This plan will require a clearly defined set of goals and objectives that the researchers aim to
achieve with the samples in storage. It will also require stipulated protocols regarding sample
collection and processing. Storage requirements pertaining to storage size and conditions will
need to be defined, as well as the long-term monitoring requirements of the specific biobank.
2. Creation of Standard Operating Procedures
At the heart of high-quality scientific outputs, there are always fundamental Standard Operating
Procedures (SOPs) to ensure the consistent, repeatable, reliable, and accurate results scientific
Before reaching the biobank, limiting sample variability should be controlled by the technicians
and researchers responsible for sample collection and processing. Once the samples reach the
biobank, a different range of procedures is in place to control for environmental conditions
during the preservation phase to limit variability.
These procedures include but are not limited to the handling of the specimens and include
processing and receiving methodologies. Furthermore, the implementation of an appropriate
record management system, equipment maintenance, monitoring and facility security will all rest
upon the biobank itself to establish these procedures.
3. Biobank staff training
In order to maximise the integrity of samples earmarked for biobanking, staff need to have a
thorough understanding of internal procedures, need to be trained accordingly and should be
competent to perform their duties.
Biobank staff training and competency are particularly important in biobanks where specimens
are brought in from various sampling locations. The authors of the Mayo clinic review, further
recommend identifying a “super-trainer” – a member of the permanent staff complement
responsible for training new staff. to ensure a standardised training approach to deliver
consistency over a long period of time, since staff turnover is unavoidable.
4. Laboratory Information Management Systems
Maintaining sample integrity at the biobank is not complete once the samples are stored.
Sample integrity further relies on the ongoing, day-to-day activities of the biobank. These activities are strongly dependent on a reliable Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) for sample tracking, traceability and accountability
An appropriate LIMS is a software suite that allows the management and tracking of laboratory samples and the data associated with them. Any details pertaining to the type, source, collection, collection methods, transportation, processing, preservation (if applicable), and storage of each sample should be documented.
Depending on the unique requirements of the specific biobank, LIMS can be integrated with specialised instrumentation and workflows to further eliminate the potential for human error that could compromise the integrity of the samples in the biorepository.
5. Post-collection processing
Depending on the nature of the biological samples, post-collection processing may be required in preparation for long-term storage.
Post-collection processing should be well-defined in the pre-established SOPs and should be included in the LIMS as part of maintaining the integrity of each sample.
6. Disaster preparedness
Samples stored in a biobank are often scientifically valuable and irreplaceable.
Therefore, biobanks should account for potential disasters that might threaten the integrity of the samples being preserved. Depending on the area and environmental conditions of the biobank, some potential threats could include fires, floods, natural disasters and security breaches.
A biobank should not only have an early detection system in place but it is also recommended that a designated crisis management team be assigned to prepare risk assessments and a tailor-made contingency plan, should disaster strike.
Biobanking in South Africa: unique challenges and prospects
With a current population of approximately 60 million people, South Africa has one of the highest rates of communicable diseases including HIV, Tuberculosis, and a growing list of metabolic disease syndromes.
This high disease burden requires uniquely focused research and development to benefit a developing country with specific resource and logistical challenges.
One of South Africa’s greatest threats to productivity is the limitations of its energy resources. Since 2007, SA has faced rolling, scheduled power outages due to a combination of ageing infrastructure, a dramatic increase in consumer demand and limited coal supplies. Although the future of SA’s energy includes capacity-building plans and renewable energy, there is currently no end in sight to unavoidable power shortages.
Since effectively maintaining specified temperatures in sample storage is crucial, special considerations must be given to biorepositories in SA regarding their energy supply. A reputable SA-based biorepository will require backup generators and stable energy storage devices to ensure sustained operations.
Why consider biobanking for your samples?
With all the potential benefits of biobanking, it may seem like a service exclusively reserved for large research and academic institutions.
Biobanking has evolved and is now a service available to any laboratory or institution that could benefit from long-term sample storage by utilising the expert services of a biorepository, your business could soon enjoy the following benefits as well:
1. Completely controlled
Through expertly designed management systems and well-implemented LIMS, the entire lifecycle of each and every sample is completely controlled.
From the moment you start planning your experiment, how sampling is executed, transportation, and, finally, long-term storage in a biobank ensures consistency and repeatability of your future experiments – music to any scientist’s ears!
Your samples and their associated data are available on-demand, and with new cloud-based monitoring systems in place, you have complete control over your samples, even from a distance!
2. Freeing up space
Regardless of the size of your operation, space is always a hot commodity in a laboratory setting!
Maintaining a sufficient number of freezers for your ever-growing number of samples in long-term storage can become problematic. Not only is the financial burden ever-increasing, but the space requirements for maintaining these instruments may be impossible to meet.
By outsourcing your sample storage needs to a biobank, you free up space in your laboratory for the samples that are currently being processed. It could even free up space for instruments or bulk consumable orders that you have earmarked for your business.
Time is money.
Cliche, but so true in a laboratory. The time-saving abilities of outsourcing your sample storage needs to a biobank are two-fold.
Firstly, establishing and maintaining the detailed procedures associated with long-term sample storage requires dedicated, trained staff. These staff members must be focused on maintaining the integrity of samples through thorough LIMS record-keeping and crisis management. This level of dedication will either require hiring additional staff at a significant additional cost or adding this burden of responsibility to the list of duties of your current staff. In the long run, overworked staff could result in burnout which could affect staff and their families in detrimental ways, but also laboratory operations and morale.
Secondly, should new research questions arise, previous samples and associated data can be accessed on demand from your biobank storage which will result in much faster research outputs, increased turnaround times as well as a reduction in costs.
4. Peace of mind
Although the benefits listed above are compelling, there is little that compares with the peace of mind that biobanking can provide.
Outsourcing your sample storage and/or preservation needs to a reputable biobank, can serve as an unofficial insurance policy for your laboratory. Reputable biobanks can dramatically reduce the risk to sample integrity thus contributing to the repeatability of desired outputs without the responsibility associated with maintaining appropriate environmental conditions, instrumentation, document/records management as well as crisis management.
This level of reassurance will allow you and your staff to keep doing what you do best, without the added burden of long-term sample management on sight.
Biobanking with LabSPACE AFRICA
When it comes to biobanking, we’ve got your back!
Once your samples are received in our laboratory, you can rest assured that we have a dedicated team that will handle your samples appropriately from logging your samples into our cutting-edge cloud-based LIMS program to labelling samples with labels specifically designed for their storage conditions, to allow for easy tracking and retrieval of samples for as long as you need it.
Figure 1. An overview of the key considerations for biobank operations (adapted from Cicek & Olsen, 2020).
We have long-term storage solutions available under a variety of environmental conditions:
– Room temperature (22°C – 25°C)
– Standard refrigeration: 2°C – 8℃
– Standard freezer: -15°C – -25℃
– Ultra-low freezing: -80℃
– Considered to be the gold standard for long-term biological sample storage
– The degradation of biological molecules, such as nucleic acids and proteins, is limited.
– Cryogenic freezing: -160°C
– Considered to be the Rolls Royce of long-term storage solutions.
– Virtually all biological processes cease, and degradation of samples becomes negligible.
– Allows for the longest period of biological sample storage
Our Cloud-based LIMS allows ease of access remotely and can facilitate effortless, transparent collaboration between researchers.
We have successfully implemented a continuous monitoring system through Beyond Wireless that continuously monitors temperatures and humidity 24/7 in all storage facilities including long-term ultra-low freezing. This system further establishes cloud-based security in real-time, alerting us to deviations that may impact our facilities and samples.
We further, through our backup power supply systems, regular equipment maintenance and servicing protect sensitive fridges, freezers and environmental chambers from power outages and surges to prevent malfunction and downtime of equipment.
When you are ready for long-term peace of mind regarding your sample storage needs, please contact us for a tailor-made storage plan, managed by our expertly trained team.
We look forward to protecting your future!
- Abayomi, A., Christoffels, A., Grewal, R., Karam, L. A., Rossouw, C., Staunton, C., Swanepoel, C., & van Rooyen, B. (2013). Challenges of biobanking in South Africa to facilitate indigenous research in an environment burdened with human immunodeficiency virus, tuberculosis, and emerging noncommunicable diseases. Biopreservation and Biobanking, 11(6), 347–354. https://doi.org/10.1089/bio.2013.0049
- Cicek, M. S., & Olson, J. E. (2020). Mini-Review of Laboratory Operations in Biobanking: Building Biobanking Resources for Translational Research. In Frontiers in Public Health (Vol. 8). Frontiers Media S.A. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2020.00362
- Annaratone, L., de Palma, G., Bonizzi, G., Sapino, A., Botti, G., Berrino, E., Mannelli, C., Arcella, P., di Martino, S., Steffan, A., Daidone, M. G., Canzonieri, V., Parodi, B., Paradiso, A. V., Barberis, M., & Marchiò, C. (2021). Basic principles of biobanking: from biological samples to precision medicine for patients. In Virchows Archiv (Vol. 479, Issue 2, pp. 233–246). Springer Science and Business Media Deutschland GmbH. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00428-021-03151-0