Collecting specimens in biobanks provides little value unless the samples can be easily used. As Mark A Collins, PhD, director of marketing at BioFortis, says, “People have invested a lot of money in biobanks and the specimens in them. Now, they are looking to best leverage those specimens to drive clinical research, personalized medicine and clinical trials.”

This means that researchers want to know more about specific samples. As Caroline Huber, senior market manager at Tecan, says, “Standardization of how samples are treated and tracking each sample step have become more important with the increasing size of sample collections.” She adds, “Automation enhances the standardization of processes and enables individual sample tracking.”


The Freedom EVO-HSM workstation extracts DNA that can be biobanked. (Image courtesy of Tecan)Adding Automation

Biobanks must evolve over time. Consequently, one trend in biobanking provides flexibility to adapt to the requirements of different projects. Biobanks that store samples for multiple projects need to be able to store different volumes, numbers of aliquots and specimen types depending on the project. To do that efficiently, Huber says that “automation allows users to quickly adapt processes to new projects while maintaining traceability.”

Building complete biobanking systems requires teamwork. As an example, Huber says, “Tecan and Promega have developed a turnkey workstation for fully automated extraction of gDNA from whole blood samples.” The Freedom EVO - HSM workstation provides DNA extraction from large volume blood samples using Promega’s ReliaPrep Large Volume HT gDNA Isolation System. This system is “intended to meet the needs of biobanks and high-throughput genomic laboratories,” Huber says. “The workstation is designed to streamline biobanking workflows, offering intelligent one-tube genomic DNA extraction from up to 32 samples in less than four hours.” This technology also provides automated reagent-volume calculations for each sample, ensuring that optimal buffer ratios are used for extraction.


Evolving Integration

The data associated with a specimen in a biobank often involves many parameters. “These are rich datasets about the specimen and, often, the patient that contributed the sample,” says Collins. To help researchers integrate so much information, BioFortis developed Labmatrix, which provides online access to data from clinical and translational research. It can integrate data from a patient, the specimen and even information from genetic and molecular assays. “This lets you address not just where a sample is, but how many people with a particular gene profile have been on a particular drug,” Collins explains.

Researchers also want to easily mine datasets. “You need to be able to ask questions about the data without asking a programmer to write a query,” Collins says. With Qiagram from BioFortis, researchers can collaboratively ask questions by simply “drawing” their query Collins says. “There’s SQL programming underneath, but you don’t see that.”


The eastBlood STARlet makes it easier to work with blood samples by automatically fractionating them. (Image courtesy of Hamilton Robotics)Keeping the Quality

As biobanks store more samples, it becomes increasingly crucial and challenging to preserve sample quality over time, says Bobby Chavli, associate director, marketing, Hamilton Robotics. The first step involves the original sample. “In clinical samples, for example, how accurately you can collect blood fractions matters,” says Chavli.

Building a complete biobanking and sample-processing system requires a start-to-finish automated workflow that can be customized for different facilities. Hamilton offers solutions for storage and blood fractionation, with integrated chain of custody and sample tracking.

To maintain sample integrity, Hamilton Storage Technologies developed BiOS, which stores and processes up to 10 million samples at temperatures as low as –85° Celsius. For blood samples, Hamilton’s easyBlood STARlet automatically fractionates the samples. “You can take plasma, RBC and WBC fractions and store them at –80° for decades,” Chavli says.

Hamilton Robotics also offers solutions for nucleic-acid extraction. For example, Akonni TruTip kits—from Akonni Biosystems—used with the Microlab STAR line enables efficient processing of 96 samples in less than one hour. Hamilton’s STAR line also automates PerkinElmer chemagen Technologie’s chemistry and Promega’s ReliaPrep chemistry. All of these workstations can be customized.


A Simplified System

Technology from TTP Labtech stores and retrieves samples with air, similar to the air-driven system at a drive-through bank. “This is fairly simple and low-cost,” says James Craven, product manager biostorage at TTP Labtech. In addition, this company’s platforms, including the new arktic, store samples individually, so only the desired sample—rather than an entire rack of tubes—experiences any temperature change when being retrieved.

When adding more units, the arktic platforms don’t even need to be side by side. Instead, pipes can connect them so that they can exchange samples. This platform can even work with others from TTP Labtech, such as the comPOUND. Then, the company’s lab2lab software manages the samples across the platforms.


Sample integrity is key

Brooks Life Science Systems a division of Brooks Automation Inc.  provides experience in the provision of automated bio-storage and sample processing solutions for biorepositories. Suppliers of automated DNA and also -80°C stores, Brooks understands the importance of sample integrity and provides a range of bio-storage solutions from ambient to -80°C as well as automated blood fractionation systems. According to Clint Haris, SVP and General Manager , Brooks Life Science has installed more than 200 systems, offers a  global support network and ensures sample integrity through its experience with robotics and cryogenics.

In addition to automated stores, Brooks also supplies REMP consumables, a solution for high integrity, cost effective sample storage tubes and plates. The heat seal provides high integrity at low temperatures, saving space when compared to traditional caps and reducing potential interference of the sample caused by adhesives.

Brooks continually focuses its R&D activities on providing solutions to maintain sample integrity and security during sample storage, handling, analyzing and processing applications. To this end, the company recently introduced its new ‘BioStore II’ (-20°C and -80°C) and SampleStore II, (ambient to -20°C) automated stores.

Such advances in sample management and storage promise to give researchers many millions of specimens to explore for decades to come.