When we talk about biobanking, we often resort to ideas borrowed from regular banking, the kind of banking that puts us in mind of deposits and withdrawals. This kind of thinking is fine so far as it goes, but it reflects what banking used to be—the lending of savers’ deposits to borrowers. Banking, however, has long since ceased to be so primitive. Nowadays, banks lend multiples of what they have on deposit. They conjure money out of thin air.

John Sterling headshot
John Sterling, Editor-in-Chief, GEN

Alas, such magic is beyond any biobank. A biobank, unlike a regular bank, cannot reach into the future, grasp value that has yet to be created, and haul it into the present. This kind of time travel, as one of our more acerbic economists has noted, seems especially magical if we focus our attention on the banks, which merely manipulate numbers, instead of the borrowers, who sweat to keep paying off their loans.

Biobanks have a magic that is almost the opposite of a regular bank’s magic. Biobanks don’t snatch value from the future. Instead, they bring it out of the past. Also, biobanks don’t rely on the sweat of their “borrowers,” researchers and clinicians, to sustain the trick of time travel. On the contrary, the biobanks do the sweating. It is only through the diligent work of biobanks that we may preserve, and ultimately share, the value inherent in freshly obtained biological samples.

The kinds of work carried out by biobanks are discussed in this GEN supplement. For example, this supplement describes how biobanks are improving their sample collection, preservation, and distribution activities by upgrading their infrastructure (both physical and digital), streamlining their processes, and harmonizing their standards.

All these efforts are important. Even more important, however, is something else that this supplement hopes to convey. Namely, faith. Biobanking is, at its heart, all about faith. The faith of donors who hope that the samples they provide will help not only themselves, but also others. The faith of scientists who hope to discover new ways of alleviating suffering. The faith of biobankers who believe that the samples they manage contain riches that we still know nothing of, riches that may be lost to our future selves, absent right action in the present. Such action, ultimately, may be the real source of biobanking’s riches.

The Biobanking Integrity supplement consists of the below articles.

Innovative Biobanks Return Scientific Dividends
The Evolution of Biobanking
Rapid Expansion of Biobanking in China
The Role of Automation in Biobanking Financial Sustainability
CSM Biological Sample Management: Much More Than Freezing Samples
Biobanking Issues: Challenges, Instruments, and Solutions
Roundtable Discussion: Protecting Complete Sample Chain of Custody