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Why Partner with a Biobank? Three Things to Consider

Biobanks offer specialized handling systems, collaboration, and expert guidance

Maria Rosales Gerpe, PhD

María Rosales Gerpe, PhD, is a writer with a science research background in molecular virology, intrinsic immunology, and pathobiology. She obtained her PhD at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada....

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Sample storage is vital to research as inappropriate storage can result in the damage or loss of samples, which may lead to poor quality research, impact project continuation, or prevent future innovative research. Depending on the scope of a project, lab managers may choose to store samples in-house or set up their own biobanks through assistance from specialized companies. 

But the vast majority of labs may not have the luxury of delaying research to build up a significant repository of samples for an internal biobank. Sara Yasemin Nußbeck, PhD, head of the Central Biobank at the University Medical Center Göttingen, highlights that establishing a biobank may take years, so partnering with one can prove advantageous. 

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Benefits of partnering with a biobank

Biobanks already have specialized and automated systems

Biobanks not only store samples but also their associated data, explains Nußbeck. “We have the automated equipment and SOPs in place. We also use specialized software with an audit trail for each sample.” 

Systematic handling of samples becomes especially critical with increased sample quantity and heterogeneity. Biobanks are also ready for inevitable emergencies like power outages.

“We have failsafe mechanisms for power failures including automated liquid nitrogen cooling, uninterrupted power supply for critical equipment, and 24/7 on-call expert personnel for emergencies,” emphasizes Nußbeck. 

Biobanks can enable collaboration

Basic or translational researchers from academia or industry may find biobanks are a great resource to expand the scope of their projects through collaboration. 

Nußbeck’s team recently stored samples for the ROCK-ALS international, multicenter study focusing on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); such samples will be used for basic studies such as pharmacodynamics to evaluate the ALS therapy being trialed, highlighting that biobanks can facilitate collaboration between academia and industry.

Basic or translational researchers from academia or industry may find biobanks are a great resource to expand the scope of their projects through collaboration.

Many scientists have also turned to biobanking as a way of performing collaborative, multidisciplinary basic and clinical studies. Recent examples include the ORIGINS Project investigating how non-communicable diseases develop, and CoVARR-Net (Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network), which integrates a data platform, clinical, biological, and environmental sample collections, and reagent and microbial catalogues. 

Biobanks are hubs of expertise

Many biobanks also specialize in storage of diverse samples so collaborators can benefit from ample diverse data. “At Göttingen, we have a very broad research focus,” states Nußbeck, adding that the facility stores samples from induced pluripotent stem cells to diverse aetiology tumor tissue samples and liquid samples like blood.

Highly specialized personnel are involved in the sample storage to ensure optimal preservation, expands Nußbeck. Personnel at biobanks like the University Medical Center Göttingen can also help navigate sample storage logistics by assisting with funding grant preparation and ethics applications. 

Before considering which biobank to partner with, Nußbeck advises looking for biobanks with expertise in handling the samples in question. To assist in finding the right biobank, the University of British Columbia Office of Biobank Education and Research and the Canadian Tissue Repository Network established a Biobank Locator in the early 2010s, which now lists over 340 registered biobanks worldwide.

Through biobanks, scientists can store and/or access large sample and data collections, collaborate with different research disciplines and industries, all while relying on high quality samples and data afforded by specialized equipment, resources, and personnel.