What are Biobanks?

By December 12, 2017 March 19th, 2019 Biobanks, Blog, Medical Research

What are Biobanks?


The term Biobank refers to a biorepository in which biospecimens and their associated data are accepted, processed, stored and distributed for use in clinical care and for research purposes. Collections of a wide range of specimens of animals, microbes, plants and different types of non-human materials is also referred to as biobanks but some discussions consider biobanks to involve only the collection of human specimens. Biobanking has evolved at an alarming rate over the years. It first started due to the research needs for specific projects carried out in universities. At this time, there were mostly storehouses found in universities which then grew into both government and institutional storehouses which were used commercially and for research purposes. The information which was collected by these biobanks has been expanded from basic data such as the diagnosis and date of collection to a wide range of information which includes several aspects of patient and participant phenotypes which then rapidly extended to proteomic, genetics and other information under the “omics” category.

These biobanks are classified in terms of design and purpose.


Disease Oriented Biobanks

These are usually affiliated through hospitals through which samples are collected representing various types of diseases which are for the purposes of searching for affiliated biomarkers with the disease. These banks are divided into tissue biobanks and rare disease biobanks.

  • Tissue and Tumor biobanks harvest and store specimens of human tissue which are then used for both research, especially cancer research, and the carrying out of transplants. New technology is expected to diversify the applications of tissue banks.
  • Rare disease biobanks are made up of biological samples from rare diseases which may be tissue, cell lines, blood and DNA because of their diversity and rarity. These type of banks are a very important research tool.


Population-Based Biobanks

These types of biobanks do not require any specific affiliation to hospitals as they are involved with the collection of samples from a wide variety of people perhaps for the purpose of searching for biomarkers for disease awareness in the entire population in general.

Virtual Biobanks

These involve the integration of epidemiological cohorts into a common pool. The samples collected in these type of bank are allowed to meet national regulations.

Biobanks have led to significant scientific findings Below are a few of examples of these biobanks and their recent findings.

  • The Genetic Biobank found in San Francisco, California revealed their recent findings at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG). This biobank found an intriguing connection between telomeres (which is the sequence of protective DNA which caps the ends of chromosomes) and mortality. The telomere length of the participants shortens as the cells divide until they reach the point which then kick starts the cell into a senescent state.
  • The UK biobank which revolutionizes our understanding of disease and health also discovered the reason why some smokers are spared from the killer effects of tobacco. It was discovered by the team that there are six genes which play an important role in lung health. They noticed that some people have a more protective version of these genes while others might have one or more harmful types. This is the reason why some people don’t have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease which is associated with tobacco.



  1. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2012/11/largest-us-genetic-biobank-reveals-early-findings
  2. Wain, Louise V., et al. “Novel insights into the genetics of smoking behaviour, lung function, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (UK BiLEVE): a genetic association study in UK Biobank.” The Lancet Respiratory Medicine 3.10 (2015): 769-781.

Leave a Reply