Biobanking Science: Managing Brain Biorepositories

By following best practice guidelines, brain biorepositories can maintain sample quality, protect patient/donor privacy and provide valuable resources to researchers.

Biorepositories store brains.
Brain biorepositories can maintain sample quality by following best practice guidelines.
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Brain biorepositories such as the NeuroBioBank in the US, the BrainNet Europe consortium and the SIREN biobanks in Africa support research into brain diseases by providing valuable biospecimens. Biorepositories must follow best practices to maintain the quality of biobanked samples and linked data. When biobanks work to protect sample integrity and maximize sample use by qualified researchers, they are respecting the wishes of tissue donors and their families (1).

Best Practice Guidelines for Brain Biorepositories

The International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER) and the National Cancer Institute (2) have best practice guidelines for biorepositories. These guidelines cover all aspects of planning, setting up and running a biobank.

These guidelines highlight the importance of standardizing sample collection, processing and storage. The aim of standardizing sample handling is to minimize variability between samples. Staff training and quality management are important parts of minimizing any variability in sample handling.

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Choosing the Right Samples to Biobank

High quality biospecimens can be used in a range of research including high-throughput genomic and proteomic studies. Research studies need both healthy and diseased tissue. Therefore, biorepositories should aim to collect age-, sex- and race-matched control samples, as well as collecting samples from patients with brain disorders. Some brain research also requires blood and urine samples or other biospecimens.

There is significant cost to collecting, processing and storing biospecimens. Brain biorepositories should only collect samples that will be valuable to researchers. This may mean excluding brain tissue if it is too damaged, if the patient has a history of drug or toxin use, or if trained staff cannot collect and process the brain within a reasonable time period after death.

Patient Consent

Patient consent is one of the most important parts of biobanking. Brain samples can only be used in multiple research studies if patients or their families have consented to donate the sample for broad research use. Also, in some institutions, the Institutional Review Board must also consent for external researchers to use any samples.

Some families may want access to research results. This should be documented and provided wherever possible.

Collection, Processing and Storage Protocols

Processing and storage methods affect which assays can be done on brain tissue. For example, it is difficult to extract DNA and RNA from paraffin-embedded tissues. Therefore, biorepositories should think about current and future research use when deciding on best practice protocols to collect, handle and store samples. Biobanks should customize their sample handling workflow based on the type of samples they collect and store, the research programs they support, and the geographical local of donors.

Data Management and Sample Tracking

Biospecimens are most valuable if they are linked to demographic and clinical information including data on disease history, medical treatment and environmental factors. Biospecimens and linked data should be de-identified and coded to protect patient privacy.

Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) make it easy to track samples and store data in a way that complies with regulatory requirements.


By following best practice guidelines, biorepositories can maintain the quality of their samples, protect patient/donor privacy and provide valuable resources to researchers.



  1. Zielke, H.R. and Mash, D.C. A review of brain biorepository management and operations. Handbook of Clinical Neurology. 2018.
  2. NCI Best Practices for Biospecimen Resources. National Cancer Institute. 2016.