Vaults were invented to keep valuable items safe and secure, guarding against theft and damage. In the world of biological research, the types of valuables and the threats against them are very different, but the need to store them safely for future use is the same. Biological vaults are called biobanks, and they’re repositories for some of the most valuable items in research: human biological samples, stored and protected for years, up to decades, for use in various high-quality research purposes. Biobanks vary tremendously in size, scope and focus, enabling researchers to find specimens with similar traits for a variety of studies.
For example, a researcher may need to conduct a study on Caucasian-male smokers, age 30–40 years, who smoked for more than 10 years. Rather than putting out a query to find participants that fit this criterion, this researcher can access samples from previous studies, thus saving time and costs while still having access to a large sample size. This ability to easily access specific biospecimens is the major contribution of biobanks to the research community.
Proper collection, storage and use of samples stored in biobanks is the key to ensuring that they will be useful for aiding research into future diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Sample types in biobanks can range from blood to skin cells to organ tissue, and more. They are typically labeled with a barcode and used multiple times; therefore, preserving specimen integrity over a long span of time and through multiple uses is a critical concern.
Some controversy over the ownership of samples, consent to use samples, and similar issues have arisen in recent years, and will surely continue to be discussed in the future. However, there is no doubt that biobanking procedures are a critical prerequisite for in-depth research. Therefore, it is important to have tools and techniques that allow for the best processes in collecting, stabilizing, processing, storing and tracking biospecimens to better link molecular and clinical information.
The area of biobanking is vast and complex. In the next series of posts, we will take a deeper dive into these areas, which include handling, storing and processing, among other topics. Stay tuned.
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