What is a Biorepository and What do they do?


A biorepository is a center that collects, processes, stores, and transports biospecimens or biological samples to aid research or scientific investigations. Biorepositories can contain human specimens, animal samples, and various other living organisms. Any life form can be studied through the preservation and storage of samples. Biorepositories that revolve around human specimens are essential for research regarding personalized medicine. This is crucial as it helps to advance the study of disease and health with time. Biorepositories function to maintain biospecimens and all the associated information for research purposes. The center helps to assure the quality while managing the accessibility and distribution of the biological materials in the collection. 


All biorepositories have four main operations:

  1. Collection – This is where the arrival of the samples is recorded. These biospecimens are assigned a unique identification. This information along with the data associated with the specimen is then recorded in the laboratory information management system. 

  2. Processing – The samples at this stage are tested to ensure that there is minimal variation in the handling and preparation stage. 

  3. Storage – The samples are held in their proper storage environments such as room temperature or freezers depending on the requirement.

  4. Distribution – The required samples can be retrieved and transported to their designated locations when requested by research teams. 


Biorepositories need to consider important safety issues such as electrical, biological, physical, chemical, fire, and radiologic hazards. All biorepositories should have their own protocols regarding safety issues and needs. This may vary depending on the specific goals and functions for different biorepositories. In the European Union and the United States, biorepositories should have regulations regarding general areas of safety. There are also certain regions where there are additional regulations for electrical, physical, and fire safety. Biorepositories should also continually adjust, review, and update their safety protocols. 

Issues Associated with Biorepositories

There are several issues regarding biospecimens that have been collected for research purposes. Biospecimens can be tissue, blood, urine, etcetera that will be used for research purposes to contribute to scientific knowledge. Donors expect that their privacy will be respected, and their donated specimens are used only in cases where they have consented. This means that the biorepository is considered to be responsible for the donor’s privacy. 

Another issue would be concerning responsible custodianship. The specimens are precious and the more the specimen is used, the higher its value as different causal pathways can be determined without testing or collecting determined parameters. However, a renewable resource will lead to issues of costs of sharing, packing, and shipping. There are also costs associated with intellectual property loss along with concerns that the data will be misused or misinterpreted. With the above mentioned factors and the fact that a well-maintained collection annotated with data can have great commercial value, it is not surprising that investigators are unwilling to share their biospecimens. Responsible custodianship also requires proper handling and storage of the specimens. This includes having the proper personnel, quality control, standard operating procedures, and quality assurance measures. 

The next issue is a well-known issue known as informed consent. There are many biorepositories that are established and maintained after used for studies. These biorepositories are kept and maintained for future research. Since the informed consent obtained was for the previous study, it poses as a major ethical issue when the biospecimens are used in future research. This is especially true if the specimens are linked to personal information such as medical history as it involves privacy regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) act. HIPAA required permission or consent to be obtained every time the specimen is used for a different purpose. However, it is being reviewed to how the regulations may be improved. Obtaining future consent is also problematic as donors can be lost to follow-up or resent being contacted. However, it is important that the use of the specimen be consistent with the consent. Donors should also be informed that there have a right to withdraw their consent or request for their specimen to be destroyed. 

Another significant issue is the privacy protection of donors. While the specimens are much more valuable if it has associated information such as medical history and sociodemographic information of the donor, it also becomes harder to protect the privacy of the individual. There is also a concern where the information can or cannot be released. For example, the information obtained from the biospecimen may jeopardize the ability to obtain health insurance. This is why that is crucial for biorepositories to have policies that protect the confidentiality and privacy of donors.


There is much to know and learn about the operations and management of a biorepository. These centers play a key role in the advancement of the medical industry as it helps determine the progression, prognosis, and therapy for various diseases. However, there are also various issues that should be addressed to ensure that all parties involved are protected. 


Foxman B. Human and animal subject protection, biorepositories, biosafety considerations, and professional ethics. Molecular Tools and Infectious Disease Epidemiology. 2012. Accessed 4/16/2019. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/biorepository

Biorepository. Wikipedia. Accessed 4/16/2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biorepository