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Guide: Ten Facts About Biorepositories

by Raul Buman

Biorepositories, also known as biobanks, are basically libraries of biological specimens that can be used by biologists and other life scientists for purposes of research, study, and analysis. The College of American Pathologists defines a biorepository as “an entity that receives, stores, processes, and/or disseminates biospecimens, their derivatives, and relevant data, as needed.” Let’s take a look at ten things you might not know about these important facilities.

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1. Biorepository services are often used for the isolation of RNA, DNA, and proteins for genetic research. Much of this research has led to significant advances for in the medical and biological fields.
2. Use of biorepositories has aided the development of personalized molecular medicine. This process links a person’s reaction to medicines to their individual genetics, personalizing treatment in a way not previously possible.
3. The samples collected at a biorepository, known as biogenetic samples, are usually tagged with information about the donor and the conditions in which the specimen was taken. It should be noted, though, that extreme care is taken to protect the privacy of the donor. Personal information is typically removed and replaced with a unique identifying code.
4. Biogenetic samples are categorized in a number of ways. These include classification by ethnicity, age, gender, blood types, as well as whether the donor smoked or suffered exposure to hazardous materials. All of these characteristics can then be cross-referenced to obtain a specific classification for use in scientific studies. For example, a study might want to look at 40-50 year old men of Asian descent, and this cross reference would allow a set of biogenetic samples to be identified.
5. Most samples in biorepositories are obtained through donations gathered during clinical trials and public health surveys. Patients having lab work done in the course of treatment for individual medical conditions, though, donate some samples. In all cases, specific permission is given to use the sample.
6. The International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories sets standard procedures and protocols for handling samples and other actions. This international body, headquartered in Maryland, also promotes ethical standards for the industry.
7. Biorepositories often provide for freezing tissues and cryogenic suspension of human cells. This enables samples to be examined or used at a later date.
8. Biorepositories also often offer services such as creation of immortalized cell lines. These cells can, in turn be used for biotechnology and biochemical research.
9. Human research biobanks, one of the earliest forms of biorepositories, have existed for over 50 years now. In the 1980s, however, small scale and complex research and scientific engagement gave birth to the modern biorepository.
10. Biorepositories are found within the private business world, academia, research institutes and the federal government. The number of institutions is increasing, and they are found in the United States and throughout the world.

The advent of these institutions is important for our society as a whole. Because of the research they facilitate, advances in medical treatment of some of the world’s most horrific diseases are being made, and our understanding of our own genetic makeup is increasing. The role this relatively new and exciting medical industry plays in the future will likely increase as that knowledge advances.