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Next Generation Biobanking & Education

A Biobank is a biological materials repository that collects, processes, stores, and distributes biospecimens to support future scientific investigation.


A Biobank is a biological materials repository that collects, processes, stores, and distributes biospecimens to support scientific investigation.

Biobanks can contain or manage specimens from animals, including humans, and many other living organisms. Vertebrates, invertebrates, arthropods, and other life-forms are just a few of the many classes of living organisms which can be studied by preserving and storing samples taken.

The purpose of a Biobank is to maintain biological specimens, and associated information, for future use in research. The Biobank assures the quality, and manages the accessibility and distribution/disposition of the biospecimens in its collection. The four main operations of a Biobank are; (i) collection (ii) processing, (iii) storage or inventory, and (iv) distribution of biological specimens.

Since the late 1990s biobanks have become an important resource in medical research, supporting many types of contemporary research like genomics and personalized medicine.

The hype in biobanking and the boost of biobanks in the last 2 decades has led to the development of a huge number of biobanks around the globe. The number of human biobanks has especially grown, culminating in a total amount of about 200 million specimens currently stored in these. These human biological specimens include tissues (fixed and embedded in paraffin or stored at very low temperatures as cryo samples), bodily fluids (blood and derivatives, urine, saliva, but also liquor, follicular fluid, seminal fluid, etc.) and isolated biological structures (DNA, RNA, proteins, primary cells). Each and every biobank needs to connect samples to their associated data. In human biobanks these comprise mostly clinical data; however, data may also be derived from experimental data (e.g. data from omics technologies) or data related to demographic, environmental and social parameters of the donors. Of course, all this data needs to be saved and connected to the samples in a way ensuring protection of any personal data of the donors.

Lack of Definitions

Like any hype, due to its fast development biobanking has generated quite a lack of definitions that can be related to the pool of “How” questions related to this. To name a few:

  • How is the collection strategy of a biobank defined?
  • How is sample integrity preserved during sample collection?
  • How is sample quality maintained during sample storage?
  • How is the direct link between sample and data secured?
  • How can the highest quality of data and samples be achieved and conserved?
  • How is the privacy of donors protected?
  • How can the samples be made available for academic and industrial research partners worldwide?
  • How can scientists find the quality and quantity of samples needed for their studies?
  • How can sustainability of biobanks, especially academic biobanks be assured?

Although there is the need to define a collection strategy, there is no requirement to standardize collection strategies in different biobanks or the amount of samples stored in a single biobank. At the same time, a single aliquot in a freezer should not be termed a biobank per definition as is true for specific countries.

Higher Level of Communication and Education

The further development of the field of biobanking is crucially dependent on a deep analysis of problems and challenges. High levels of harmonization and quality standards need to be set up to guarantee data and sample qualities in biobanks that match the needs of the new developing assays, especially the – omics technologies. This can only be achieved by communication on a very high level. International biobank networks, organizations and societies [including “Infrastructure Biobanques” (http://www.biobanques.eu/fr/), the European, Middle Eastern and African Society for Biopreservation and Biobanking – ESBB (http://www.esbb.org/),  International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories – ISBER (http://www.isber.org/), the Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure –BBMRI-ERIC (http://www.bbmri-eric.eu/)], as well as superregional biobanks will be heavily involved in setting up the framework of definitions and standards for the harmonization of biobanking activities. In this framework, defining standards of SOPs (standard operation procedures) for sample and data handling, securing personal rights of donors in a networking world and certifying quality management procedures especially in biobanks are essential steps towards harmonization.

The integration of industrial research and partners into public biobank activities presents an important aspect to achieve an innovative and sustainable benefit for both, private partners and biobanks, to finally bring medical research into new horizons and advance health care for the population in general.

Therefore, biobanks have become a real scientific battlefield, which is proven by increasing numbers of publications on biobanking science and procedures in the last decade. There is an increasing need in the necessity of experts in biobanking in the future. Thus, the high demand for educating experts in the field of biobanking creates the need for a well-structured postgraduate training and education system.

Currently, there are only few opportunities around the world for postgraduate master education in Biobanking with academic courses teaching all technical, scientific and legal/ethical aspects of human and environmental biobanking.