Biobanks face the challenge of storing and handling many different types of biological samples. Unlike chemicals, biological samples are living. Therefore, it is much more difficult for biobanks to retain the normal structure and function of biological samples throughout the freeze-thaw process of cryopreservation. Different methods and processes are most appropriate for different biological sample types. This makes it hard to develop industry-wide biobanking standards for biological sample handling and cryopreservation. However, standardizing sample handling processes across the industry is very important because this is the only way to ensure biobanked samples are uniformly of high quality regardless of geographical location.
The International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER) is a global, independent organization working on developing industry-wide standards and best practices for biobanks and biorepositories. Based on scientifically rigorous research, ISBER has published a comprehensive list of best practice guidelines for biobanks: ISBER Best Practices: Recommendations for Repositories (ISBER Best Practices) .
This document is freely available to ISBER members on the ISBER website and covers the scientific, legal and ethical issues faced by biobanks. Following ISBER’s best practice guidelines can help biobanks comply with the requirements of regulatory agencies and accreditation bodies.
ISBER Best Practices covers: planning biobank setup and facilities; biobank storage and sample processing equipment; biobank quality management and quality control; biobank staff safety and training; and inventory management from sample collection right through processing, storage, packing and shipping.
Here are some of ISBER’s Best Practices for biological sample storage:
- Biobanks should have an emergency response plan and backup power or alternate cooling systems.
- Backup storage units should have at least the same capacity as the largest freezer and should always run at the required operating temperature.
- Biobanks should have a written standardized procedure for transferring samples from a failed unit to backup storage, and for returning samples to long-term storage when appropriate. The location and identification of all samples should be tracked thoughout any move.
- Any freezers and cryogenic storage units should be rated by the manufacturer for use at cryogenic temperatures. Biobanking storage units should also have relief valves in case internal pressures become too high.
- Biobanks should periodically temperature-map all freezers to document and control the temperature distribution. This is an essential part of quality assurance.
- Biobanks should use barcodes and sample ID numbers to track samples. All labels should be evaluated for how they perform under storage temperatures and conditions.
- Any sample containers should be tested for performance under storage temperatures and conditions. Liquid nitrogen can penetrate some sample containers.
- Biobanks should prepare decontamination equipment and procedures in the case of freezer contamination by blood or other biological samples.
- Biobanks should use oxygen monitors/alarms when samples are stored in oxygen-depriving compressed gases such as liquid nitrogen or liquid carbon dioxide. Consider issuing staff with personal oxygen monitors.
- Biobanks should use duplicate systems, such as automatic emergency fans and automatic doors, wherever possible to ensure staff safety.
You can access the full document on ISBER’s website here.