We often wonder how the researchers work or from where they collect their data. A researcher requires a vast collection of detailed data from thousands and lakhs of species to carry out experiments and dive into the sea of widened studies. Research is a tremendously broad field, and like every other field, it requires precision, understanding, and interest. When it comes to research in healthcare, there are three main types: population research (The study of how and why diseases occur in groups of people), laboratory research (Scientists conduct laboratory experiments with the building blocks of infection to try to understand how a condition works) and clinical research (Research conducted on people to understand better, diagnose, prevent and treat diseases).
To study a particular topic/ subject, we require data. For example, when we prepare, for say exams, we use our pre-existing notes and textbooks. Similarly, the researchers need data like CT/MRI scans, lab test results, and samples. Biobanks store these kinds of samples or specimens. The data stored in biobanks are human tissues, DNA/ RNAs, body fluids (biofluids) such as sputum, saliva, urine, blood, and cells.
A ‘Biobank’ by definition is known as a bio-repository (Bio- Biological and repository- a place used to store something), bio-resource, or a tissue bank. Biobanks consist of a considerable amount of samples that are used further by researchers for medical research and product development for healthcare purposes. A biobank can be established in hospitals, research institutes, pharmaceutical companies, or as stand-alone organizations. Biobanks have their design and objectives. Based on these two aspects, biobanks can be classified as follows:
- Disease-oriented biobanks
Some biobanks specifically collect a particular type of sample of a specific disease like cancer, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), autism, etc. Such biobanks are known as disease-oriented biobanks.
Example: Institute of Liver and Biliary diseases located in New Delhi, India, has a mission to develop a facility with international standards to provide required data for research, diagnosis, and treatment of liver diseases, including liver transplantation, gall bladder, and biliary diseases and allied specialties.
2. Population-based biobanks
Sometimes, a disease or biomarker traces are seen in people that belong to a particular area of a city. The rest of the country’s population does not possess any such similar traces. To study such types of cases, researchers require the specimens from only that group of people. This data is available in a hospital/ institute that is located in that particular area. The biobanks that collect data from a large group of individuals are known as population-based biobanks.
3. Genetic biobanks
Biobanks that store genetic data to study, understand, and transplantation are known as genetic biobanks. These genetic samples can help the patient as well as their other family members, for population genetic studies or cancer research.
Example: Tata Medical Centre Biorepository (TiMBR), located in Kolkata, India, collects genetic data from cancer patients during their treatment at the hospital.
4. Virtual biobanks
Electronic databases store the samples/ specimen data in the form of high-resolution images that are accessible through specialized software or web portals. A virtual biobank is also known as a virtual repository.
A sample, to get stored in a biobank, undergoes many steps:
- The first and foremost thing is consent or permission of the patients. When a sample is unique or of interest to a group of researches, the person working at biobank asks the patient to sign a consent form that specifies the purpose of study, risks associated, and potential benefits given to the patients.
- Once the patient voluntarily agrees to donate their samples, the sample is collected and anonymized.
- The sample is broken down into its components using a centrifugation technique, and a quality check is carried out.
- The tested sample is then set aside in liquid nitrogen at -80 to -196 degrees Celsius to prevent it from chemical reactions or degradation.
- The data is then made available for the researches, and they can use these samples for medical purposes.
The next question that arises is how the researchers will locate their sample of interest? Well, when a biobank stores a biospecimen, a detailed record of that particular sample is maintained in their computer or device. There are many Softwares to locate these samples globally that a researcher can use so that they do not have to call every biobank personally.
One such software is OpenSpecimen. OpenSpecimen is open-source software and is used and trusted by more than 65+ research centers across 15+ countries. OpenSpecimen helps in tracking all types of biospecimens from collection to utilization for prospective biobanking, longitudinal collections, multi-site clinical studies, or non-human collections.
Biobanking is helping researchers from across the world, which in turn helps in finding treatments and improving healthcare.