October 16, 2023
While different, biobanks and biorepositories are terms usually used interchangeably. They both refer to specialized facilities dedicated to the storage and management of biological samples, such as tissues, blood, and DNA, along with associated data. Virtually any lab that holds and maintains a sample storage library is maintaining a biobank or a biorepository. In both cases, these repositories of biological samples serve important purposes in scientific and medical research.
Researchers, clinicians, and scientists are the primary users of biobanks and biorepositories. They rely on access to the well-preserved samples and associated data for various research areas, including cell therapies, genomics, proteomics, and epidemiology. For instance, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is a notable organization that operates a biorepository to advance research on this genetic disorder. Qualified investigators can apply to gain access to trial data and biospecimens for translational research.
In general, these institutions adhere to sets of best practices to preserve the integrity of samples and research, such as those outlined by the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER). This commitment ensures technical excellence, operational efficiency, and strict compliance with ethical, legal, and policy guidelines governing sample acquisition, storage and usage.
Biorepositories and biobanks are similar in their core operations and both play crucial roles in advancing translational research. They both perform four main functions: collecting, processing, storing, and distributing biological samples and their related data. Collecting involves gathering various specimens from their sources, which are then prepared and preserved during processing. Both types of facilities carefully store these samples to maintain their integrity, and they distribute them to researchers for translational research.
Traditionally the difference between biobanks and biorepositories is taxonomical. Biobanks were specific to human samples, while biorepositories covered a broader scope of biological samples. Over time, the line between the two has blurred. Now, many human specimen collections refer to themselves as biorepositories, and some veterinary collections have begun to use the term biobank.
In a 2019 interview, Professor of Genetics Andrew Brooks of Rutger University points to biobanks having more of a specific and defined goal and endpoint, with repositories consisting of a wider, global and collaborative scope and with an eye on the future. As more labs create their own collections of biological samples for their own studies, this variation in project scope is the main working difference between biobanks and biorepositories.
The essential operations of each are similar, as are the goals of advancing scientific advancement. Research scope is the main difference between biobanks and biorepositories modernly, but in the past, the main difference was considered to be the type of biosample collected and managed. Most frequently, the two terms are used interchangeably, so in most contexts, biobanks are considered biorepositories, and vice versa.