Biobanking has emerged as—and will continue to be—a key tool in the arsenal of public health agencies and healthcare providers scrambling to fight COVID-19, the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Biopreservation and Biobanking asserted.

“As the number of cases continues to mount, as well as the unfortunate loss of life, biobanks will continue to work in the background to handle their roles in the response,” Jim Vaught, PhD, concluded in a commentary published by the journal online Thursday.

Vaught is a former chief of the Biobanking and Biospecimen Research Branch in the Cancer Diagnosis Program of the NIH’s National Cancer Institute. He serves on multiple advisory boards and consultant to a variety of international commercial and academic biobanks, and is a guest professor at Central South University in Changsha, China.

In his commentary, Vaught noted that issues related to patient sample collection, processing, and analyses have long been important factors in handling the response to emerging infectious diseases. In the case of COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published guidelines for handling COVID-19 samples that have served as a model for other biobanks, including that of the University of California, San Francisco. The guidelines mandate the use of Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) rules for laboratories, including the use of protective equipment, use of Class II Biological Safety Cabinets, and proper disinfection routines.

Last month, the NIH created its COVID-19 Scientific Interest Group, where interested parties can join in an online discussion and exchange information about research and resources.

“At this time, we can expect that this pandemic will continue to be our most critical international concern for months to come, from a public health perspective, as well as from the resulting economic impact. As the number of cases continues to mount, as well as the unfortunate loss of life, biobanks will continue to work in the background to handle their roles in the response,” Vaught observed.

He also recalled the important role biobanking played in past epidemics, including the 2014–2016 Ebola outbreak in Africa, and the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic, where tissue samples were used to determine that the origin of the virus was related to strains that commonly infected pigs and humans, and not of avian origin as had been previously thought.

Following the Ebola outbreak, Vaught noted, the Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment Consortium (GET) began organizing conferences focused on biobanking, and began working with international collaborators, articulating its goal of “providing strategic recommendations and establishing infrastructure and research capacity to respond to highly infectious emerging pathogens.”

The commentary, “Biobanking During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” is available on the journal’s website free until June 30.

Biopreservation and Biobanking is a bimonthly journal designed to provide comprehensive peer-reviewed coverage of biospecimen procurement, processing, preservation and banking, including ethical, legal, and societal considerations. The journal is a publication of GEN publisher Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., which has made articles related to COVID-19 and previous outbreaks such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) freely available.

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