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How to Find a High-Quality Biobank

Follow these steps to protect sample integrity during biobanking

by
Andy Tay, PhD

Andy Tay, PhD is a freelance science writer based in Singapore. He can be reached at andy.csm2012@gmail.com.

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Biobanks are key to the biotech and medical industry. They enable biomedical labs and institutions to store frozen samples of precious cells to better understand cell types involved in disease progression, and they offer long-term storage of cell culture stocks to minimize phenotypic drifts. They are also used to store cord blood stem cells and immune cells for use in regenerative medicine and cancer immunotherapy, respectively. Here, we will explore ways to ensure high quality services from biobanks.

Provide sample collection guide

The first step for any biobanking process is to collect and transport samples. A good biobanking partner should be able to advise its clients on collecting, temporarily storing, and transporting samples. This is particularly crucial because biological samples that are simply isolated from their native environment are highly fragile, and they need conditions as close as their physiological environment of origin to maintain viability. A basic guide should include the composition, temperature, and pH of the transport media.

Screen for best cryopreservation conditions

The key goal of biobanking is to maintain sample integrity for an extended period before the sample is used. Biobanks should systematically assess whether their cryopreservation protocols are optimized for different cell types and donors. It is well known that during cryopreservation, ice crystal formation can damage and kill cells. Biobanks should have already screened a range of cryopreservation conditions, including cooling and warming rates, for relevant cell types to determine what is the best condition for their clients’ samples.

A good biobanking partner should be able to advise its clients on collecting, temporarily storing, and transporting samples.

In order to determine the best cryopreservation condition, biobanks need to have the know-how to perform different assays to quantify changes in critical quality attributes (CQA). CQAs commonly used by biobanks include cell viability, metabolism, and proliferation. Other assays such as differentiation potential and cytokine profile are also used for specific cell types including stem cells and immune cells. A reliable biobank service should have these assays in place and provide evidence that their cryopreservation conditions preserve CQA of cells.

Temperature control

Cryopreservation aims to keep a sample in the frozen state with minimal fluctuation in temperature. Factors like power failure and frequent exposure to heat by opening a freezer can raise the samples’ temperature, degrading them. A reliable biobank should have backups in the event of power outage. Biobanks should also use ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers with multiple inner doors for different storage shelves instead of a single inner door for the entire freezer. This way, only the temperature of the shelf of interest is affected during door opening, and it consumes less energy to reset the freezer’s interior temperature. Newer ULT freezers also use vacuum insulation panel technology to decrease heat transfer from the external environment into the freezer more effectively than conventional materials like polyurethane and foam beads.

Overall, biobanking services will become increasingly important for the biotech and medical industry. A reliable partner should be able to provide suggestions on collection and transport protocols, offer the best cryopreservation conditions, and evidence that they have the infrastructure to maintain storing stability and manage emergencies.