The collection and storage of biological samples derived from humans, animals or plants is not a particularly new practice, but it has only been acknowledged during the 90s. The word “biobank” made its appearance in scientific literature in 1996 ; and the expression “Biological Resource Center” has been adopted in 1999 during the Workshop Tokyo ’99 on Scientific and Technological Infrastructure – Support for BRCs of OECD. France will then approve this name and its acronym “BRC” in 2001.
Biological resources (i.e. biological samples associated with their corresponding data) constitute an essential raw material for progress in biotechnologies, health and R&D in life sciences. The latest revolution in the molecular biology field (caused by the DNA sequencing and studies on the functions of genes) resulted in a worldwide increased demand for biological resources. This led many biobanks to be built on wobbly foundations. This heterogeneity in biobanking practices has motivated OECD to determine global guidelines for biobanks. As a result, the organization published in 2001 and 2007 two best practice reports that are still used to this day.
Biobanks are fundamental to harnessing and preserving the world’s biodiversity and genetic resources; they serve as an essential element of the infrastructure for scientific investigation and R&D. However, biobanks face many challenges for their development, expansion and survival. These include problems raised by the molecular revolution, by the efforts for biodiversity, by public funding uncertainties, by the need for adequate quality assurance and by national and international jurisdiction. Biobanks are therefore dynamic structures that depend on many factors, including financial, ethical and legal aspects but also medical influences: use of biological collections greatly depends on scientific advances and developments in medicine.
Biological resources play a key role in today’s biomedical research: the advent of personalized medicine and the crucial role played by biomarkers, especially in oncology, have contributed to this evolution. This progress led to the creation of tumor banks and other very specialized biobanks in the world. Clinical samples can also play a decisive role during experimental design phases, methods for identifying molecules and even when choosing biomarkers for their clinical validation. Research and Development has also deeply changed these past years and is now using more diverse resources and stakeholders, which include biobanks.