The term “biobank” has broad application, and in the most basic form has existed for many years. In general terms, biobanks are cryogenic storage facilities maintained by institutions that manage a collection of biological materials such as human tissue, serum, plasma, urine, and blood, along with donors’ data, which can be used for medical research. A small collection of blood samples kept in a freezer can technically be classified as a biobank, but the term is often associated with larger facilities where hundreds of thousands of biological samples are maintained.
Biobanks are now recognized as vital tools in disease and therapeutic research as well as in drug discovery and development. To conduct large-scale studies with reliable results, bigger biobanks are being created today, along with consolidated facilities. Biobanks are maintained by pharmaceutical and biotech companies, hospitals and research organizations, and in some cases by governments.
One example is the U.K. Biobank, which in July of this year reached its goal of collecting genetic material from 500,000 individuals—a total of 15 million blood, urine, and saliva samples. Approximately 9.5 million samples are stored in a -80ºC automated archive, providing access to academic and commercial researchers in the U.K. and throughout the world. The goal is to aid in a wide range of research studies on complex conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and dementia in combination with epidemiological factors.