Biobanks and biorepositories : clinical biological samples

What is the role of biobanks and biological resource centers?

Biobanks or Biological Resource Centres (BRCs) are entities responsible for the management of biological resources.

These structures collect, classify and index samples of fluids or tissues taken from living bodies (animals, plants and humans). Biobanks specialized in the referencing of samples from tumors are called tumor banks.

They are essential for medical research projects and their resources can be used by the scientific community.

What are the advantages of using a biobank for biological sample needs?

Setting up a collection and preparing samples for a clinical project


Saving time in the experimentation phase

How is a sample request made?

Collecting, receiving and sending samples are regulated activities and must be declared and/or subject to authorization. The Biological Resource Centre assists external applicants in the structuring of their project and their administrative procedures.

Setting up a sample collection

The first step in setting up sample collection is to identify the partner(s) with both access to patients with the disease of interest, and also the technical capacity to collect the type of samples required.

Biological resource centers will typically be able to respond individually to certain requests, and collectively to requests that require expertise or resources not available to them.

Since these are biological samples, the request must be motivated, clear, and included in a proposal that can be shared with the BRC. The information required generally relates to the nature of the project in which the collection is to be built up, the number and types of samples desired, the processing and preparation of the samples for analysis, etc. The information should be provided in a clear and concise manner.

The biological resource center can decide for or against the setting up of the project; the files are submitted to a scientific committee, which must give its approval before proceeding with the project. If the project continues, a feasibility study is carried out to determine whether the BRC has the technical capacity for the application. A financial estimate, as well as the drafting of a contract is carried out by the BRC in order to finalize the agreement between the parties. Finally, the CRB puts in place the internal operating procedure for collection, reception, storage and preparation until they are taken over.

Access a pre-existing collection - availability

Retroactive sample release is a transfer of biological material to another organization (Public or Private) as part of a joint research program (research partnership). This partnership must be formalized by a research collaboration agreement or contract that defines the framework of the joint research between the partners and the use that will be made of the samples. Applications must also be motivated and included in a project, which will be submitted to a scientific committee or to the clinical manager of the collection for validation. These requests may concern tumor or non-cancerous samples, as well as blood cells in the case of regular requests.

Types of providers

There are two major categories of biological resource centers:

University hospital structures

The majority of BRCs and biobanks are attached to a public hospital organization, which gives it access to clinical physicians and allows for collection from patients.

Service companies

Some private service companies may provide collections built up in the course of in-house projects, or organize sample collections for clinical projects.

History of tumor banks and Biological Resource Centers

Historically, tumor banks have developed around the medical activity of pathological anatomy, allowing tumors to be diagnosed. Gradually, the skills required for the collection, processing and preservation of samples led to the creation of branches dedicated to "biological resources" in a more general way, and no longer solely specialized in the collection of tumor samples.

This increase in skills has taken place at the technical level as well as at the level of information processing. On the technical level, a pathologist will contribute his knowledge for the conservation of the sample in its "fixed" form, i.e. treated with formaldehyde. Biological resource centers, on the other hand, are likely to receive requests for differently packaged samples, such as fresh samples, or samples of different types of cancerous tissue, such as biofluids like urine, blood, respiratory tract washes or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

In terms of information, the BRCs coordinate the collection of clinical data that will add value to the sample collected. The collection of samples requires the consent of the patient, the data must be anonymized, and the BRC itself must provide the administrative documents relating to their own existence. The integration of all this information can only be achieved by coordinating the action of a panel of different stakeholders: clinicians, surgeons, biologists, hospital and administrative staff. Today, the tumor banks will mainly group actions around the collection of tumor biological material, while the biological resource center encompasses a wider field of action, namely the collection of more varied samples of human or other origin.

The BRCs may have quality standards, such as NFS 96-900 and ISO 9001, and must follow the OECD 2001 recommendations, the Bioethics Law of 2004, the recommendations of the Haute Autorité de Santé 2009 and the INCa 2011 recommendations.

Technologies used

Automatic DNA and RNA extractors
Conservation cold environment: freezers -20°C, -80°C and tank Liquid nitrogen -180°C
Computer system for managing anonymized data

Estimated rates for this type of service

Setting up a collection: €5,000 to €15,000

The price of a sample depends on the preparation required (slide, fresh, nucleic acid extracts), the original organ, the desired quantity and the clinical information associated with the patient, and can vary from approximately €200 to €2,000.

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