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Introduction to biobanking

Overview of biobanking concepts

Just like a bank accepts (receives) and safeguards (stores) money owned by other individuals and entities, and then lends (gives out/shares) this money in order to conduct economic activities such as making a profit or simply covering operating expenses (value addition), Biobanks receive and store biological samples and health information in an ethically and legally regulated manner, and shares these samples to researchers who make health sense out of them.

What is a biobank?

A biobank/biorepository/bioresource is a collection of biological samples and health information. The purpose of a biobank is to process, organise, and maintain various types of biospecimens that are shared for utilisation in both clinical and research-based services (Figure 1).

A set of 7 colourful frames with words inside indicate the biobanking process in order: patient (ethics), sampling, collection, processing, storage, shipping and analysis. Arrows on the top indicate that from patient to storage are biobank-related processes, and from shipping to analysis are research-related processes. An arrow on the bottom indicates the opposite direction from analysis to storage associated with the return of samples/data to the biobank
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Figure 1 – Biobanking process

Different biobanks collect different types of samples and information. The types of information and samples collected depend on the specific purpose of the biobank. For example, some biobanks are specific to a particular disease, such as cancer. Other biobanks are population-based and contain samples and information from people in a specific population or region. The biobanks have become a crucial resource for medical research since the late 1990s as they support various research such as those in the field of personalised medicine and genomics. In fact, Biobanks are listed among the 10 big ideas changing the world by Times Magazine. Biobanks allow researchers to access data that represents a large number of people. The biospecimens and data acquired can be used by multiple researchers for cross purpose research studies.


Biospecimen types that are available include organ tissue, blood, saliva, urine, skin cells, and other tissues or fluids taken from the body. The samples are maintained in appropriate condition to prevent deterioration and protected from both accidental and intentional damage. The sample is registered in the computer-based system. The physical location of the specific sample is also noted to enable the specimen to be easily located when required. Samples are de-identified to ensure donor privacy and allow the blinding of researchers to the analysis. Room temperature storage may be used in some cases as it helps with cost efficiency and avoids issues such as freezer failure.


Biobanks can only store and share samples if they follow the required ethical guidelines. Some ethical issues regarding biobanking are the ownership of samples, ownership of derived data, the right to privacy for donors, the extent of donor consent, and the extent to which the donor can share regarding the return of research results.

How does a biobank make performing research easier?

The biobank serves as a library for researchers. Therefore, the time and resources needed to recruit new participants for each research study are greatly reduced because samples and corresponding medical information are available in one place. By making sample collection and patient recruitment more efficient, better studies can be performed in a timely fashion.

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