biobanking breakthrough: why microsampling matters
by Neoteryx | 3 min read
Precision medicine biobanks connect precision medicine with customized and personalized medical care. To meet increasing challenges in research, regulatory, and networking, such biobanks can benefit from streamlining their workflows, and by gathering and exchanging information more efficiently.
Great Scientific and Technological Advancements Face Great Challenges
Professor Hank Greely observed that biobanks can be very expensive when operated at a large scale and a high standard. Keeping a biosample collection of such scale poses specific and costly challenges regarding processing, storage, and transport.
A typical epidemiological study can include over 100,000 samples from 10,000 or so patients that would fill five freezers. Since a standard freezer is not cold enough to stop degradative enzymes, each of the freezers suitable for use in such a study costs $6,000 a year to maintain properly. Larger systems, on the other hand, that can hold between 250,000 and 10 million samples, start at $1 million.
In addition, investment in automated storage and retrieval systems to track samples - documenting whether a sample has been thawed for analysis and then restocked and ensuring that samples are maintained at a constant temperature - is crucial for any biobank. For example, the National Cancer Institute has been said to spend over $50 million a year on its core biospecimen resource infrastructure.
Jim Vaught and colleagues have insightfully noted that we need to reexamine financial models that support the infrastructure of biobanking, mainly because of tight economic realities in clinical and research operations.
Other factors that can influence the sample quality are the length of time the samples stay at room temperature before they are frozen, the time and type of fixative used during pre-analytical phases of a sample life cycle, the rate at which the samples are frozen, and the size and shape of the aliquots. Thus, biobanks are no longer measured by how many samples they keep, but by the quality and utilization of these samples to drive investigational research.
Value vs. Cost: Metrics That Could Be Used to Measure the Sustainability of Biobanks
According to Dr. Peter Watson and colleagues, some of the metrics that could be used to assist in measuring the sustainability of biobanks include operational efficiency, financial value, and social acceptability, in addition to one of the core biobank sustainability metrics - value to society. The public benefit of a precision medicine biobank could be evaluated:
- through the biobank's success in research discovery.
- through the actual use of biobank's resources (the number of requests to access the biobank).
To put a measure on biobank value, further metrics need to be developed to address the competing yet compatible interests of all stakeholders, including funders, researchers, participants, and the wider community. The evidence, however, tends to imply that the way forward will be in more individualized responses in terms of business models that incorporate sustainability, as well as quality and the highest operational standards that promote sharing of both the physical materials and electronic data.
Impact of Dried Blood Sampling on Precision Medicine Biobank Sustainability
With no difference observed between the quality of fresh and stored dried blood samples, the use of dried specimens could introduce considerable flexibility into the operational aspects of a precision medicine biobank. It is a more efficient process that does not compromise on quality or yield of DNA. It can be used in settings with limited transport and storage options, where infrastructure, resources, or environmental factors are not conducive to traditional methods. Even when resources are available, data shows that using dried samples might be a more sustainable alternative to cold storage; DNA can be successfully extracted from dried blood spots which have been stored for at least 10 years.
With the next generation biobanking approach, encompassing financial, regulatory, ethical, and quality assurance standards, precision medicine biobanks can reap the benefits of a well-managed patient and sample database that supports personalized care and patient registries according to the highest standards, high-quality clinical trials, and multidisciplinary research that transcends the bounds of a specific field.