The Various Tissue Samples Stored in a Biorepository


A biorepository or biobank is a center that collects, processes, stores, and distributes biological materials to help support research teams and other professionals in future scientific investigations. Biorepositories help to manage and contain biospecimens from various living organisms such as animals, plants, and humans. The main purpose or function of the biorepository is to retain biospecimens and their associated data for research purposes. They will ensure and manage the quality, accessibility, disposition, and distribution of all the specimens. The biorepository has four main operations:

  • Collection – This is where the samples are recorded in the biorepository’s system. Collection is done by assigning unique barcodes to each sample. This is then scanned, additional information about the sample recorded, and transferred into the laboratory information management system (LIMS). 

  • Processing – This involves the testing process for each biospecimen that has arrived at the biorepository. The quality testing process is performed in the same way to minimalize variations that may occur due to sample handling. After testing is done, the biospecimen is prepared for storage. Storage preparation may differ depending on the biospecimen. The process prepares the specimens for long-term storage to ensure the quality of the specimen.

  • Storage – All the biospecimens are held at the storage and inventory until it is requested to be distributed. The inventory and storage system have holding boxes and freezers that fulfill the sample storage requirements. Samples must be maintained so there is minimal deterioration with time. It must also be protected from both accidental and intentional damage using back up systems and standard operating procedures (SOPs). In some cases, the specimens can be stored at room temperature as it helps to lower maintenance costs and to avoid issues such as equipment failure. 

  • Distribution – This involves retrieving of samples from the inventory. Retrieving samples from the inventory should be rapid and easy as the biorepository’s system should be able to pinpoint the location of each sample. 

Types of Biorepositories

There are various biorepositories that exist. Most biorepositories are focused on a specific disease while others help in the identification of genetic clues that may guide therapeutic development. For example:

  • The United Kingdom Biobank – This is a biobank that has a broad focus with aims to improve diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases such as arthritis, stroke, diabetes, cancer, eye disorders, heart disease, depression, and dementia. In four years between 2006 to 2010, this biorepository was able to recruit half a million participants ranging from the ages of 40 to 69 years old. These participants have donated various samples such as urine, blood, and saliva for analysis. They also provided personal information and consent for follow up to help researchers understand how certain diseases develop.

  • The Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative – This is a biorepository that is focused on Alzheimer’s. Their biomarker validation program uses data and samples collected from affected patients to understand more about the condition. 

  • The Autism Research Resource – This biorepository is sponsored by the state of New Jersey to understand more about families who have more than one child with autism. 

  • The Health Outreach Program for the Elderly (HOPE) – This is a biorepository focused on researching multiple diseases affecting elderly patients. It is located at Boston University. The HOPE registry performs annual follow ups with their Alzheimer’s patients. 

Types of Tissue Samples

There are various types of tissue samples stored in a biorepository. However, the availability of some biospecimens will be specific to some biorepositories. Generally, a biorepository would have tissue samples such as serum, urine, saliva, blood, tissue from different parts of the body, diseased tissues, DNA, and RNA samples. This allows the biorepository to cater to various industry researchers and meet their research needs. The tissue samples can be categorized according to disease such as :

  • Arthritis

  • Breast cancer

  • Brain cancer

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Colon cancer

  • Cervical cancer

  • Dementia

  • Diabetes

  • Head and Neck Cancer

  • Leukemia

  • Lupus

  • Lymphoma

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Normal Tissue

  • And more. 

The samples can then be categorized based on their preparation such as:

  • Frozen tissue – These samples are snap-frozen when they were collected. It is then stored at low temperatures in liquid nitrogen to ensure that the RNA and proteins are preserved. The specimens can include tissues from various organs, diseases, and normal tissue from the surrounding area.

  • Formalin fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) tissue - As the name suggests, these tissues are fixed using formalin and embedded in paraffin.

  • Human DNA and RNA – There are also various DNA samples from various diseases. The disease-free specimens are also available for control purposes. RNA samples from various tumors and normal tissue are also available. 

  • Human serum – Serum samples from diseased and adjacent normal tissues are also available. 

Biorepository clients can request various types of specimens from the biorepository based on their needs. They can also obtain the data associated with the sample. 


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  4. Tissue procurement and biorepository. Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine. University of California, Irvine. Accessed 3/28/2019.

  5. Global biorepository of human tissue samples. Reprocell. Accessed 3/28/2019.