Erik Steinfelder joined Thermo Fisher Scientific in 2008. In his position as biobank commercial leader EMEA, he went on to head the complete biobank portfolio activities. Between August 2017 and January 2020, Steinfelder was director-general of BBMRI-ERIC, a research infrastructure that brings together the main players from the biobanking field to boost biomedical research. In February 2020, he returned to Thermo Fisher Scientific as biobanking market development director and is currently the company's global enterprise relationship lead.
Biobanks hold the power to drive the groundbreaking disease research and discovery that fuels new knowledge and innovative treatments. However, the need for carefully controlled environmental conditions, staffing resources, and dedicated space means biobank capacity is not unlimited. As the season of new beginnings approaches, it’s a good time for biobank managers to consider cleaning and organizing sample collections to ensure sensitive biospecimens are being safely and effectively stored while making the best use of available capacity.
Efficient use of available space can ensure biobank capacity is optimized and maximized
One approach to cleaning a biobank is simply optimizing the use of equipment and resources that are available. Be sure samples in freezers and on shelves and racks are organized so empty space can be easily identified and filled as needed. Consolidation of sample collections with similar characteristics from different projects can be an effective way to maximize storage and make finding specimens easier. When assessing inventory, it’s also a good time to consider if samples fit the overall profile of your biorepository and, if not, look for another biobank that could possibly take these samples and make better use of them.
The decision to discard a sample should be standardized and prescriptive
When you have compelted organizing your biobank contents and still need more space, it could be time to consider discarding samples. What are the best criteria to use to determine which biospecimens stay and which ones should be discarded? Answering this complex question requires sensitivity, as any sample could potentially make a difference in health care at some point in the future and there often isn’t an option to go back to the patient who donated the material.
Start with the simple consideration of whether there is a good chance a sample will be used in the future. Investigators could have closed a related study or a sample could have expired, making the decision to discard an easy one. Other times, the situation may warrant a judgment call. A good next step is to look at sample specifications to determine if your facility has the resources needed to maintain the long-term integrity and stability of certain samples. Similarly, ensure that established protocols for collection, preparation, and storage have thus far been followed, as there is no point to keeping a specimen that would be disqualified from research due to deviations. And finally, is there funding available to keep a certain set of samples going forward?
Once the decision is made to discard a specimen, associated costs along with legal and ethical barriers could warrant additional checks and balances before clean up. Biorepository managers will need to ensure any associated informed consent or patient documentation has been thoroughly reviewed and considered and, ultimately, that safe, ethical disposal procedures are followed.
While biobanks serve as rich repositories for research, they are often underused, with some estimates suggesting that only 10 percent of biobank samples ultimately go on to be analyzed in a study. Biobank managers can help increase the use of samples by understanding the needs of research communities and taking the time to identify, stratify, properly tag, and organize biospecimens that hold the potential to advance science and medicine.