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Biological specimen

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Title: Biological specimen  
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Biological specimen

A biological specimen (also called a biospecimen) is a biological laboratory specimen held by a biorepository for research. Such a specimen would be taken by sampling so as to be representative of any other specimen taken from the source of the specimen. When biological specimens are stored, ideally they remain equivalent to freshly-collected specimens for the purposes of research.

Human biological specimens are stored in a type of biorepository called a biobank, and the science of preserving biological specimens is most active in the field of biobanking.

Quality control

Setting broad standards for quality of biological specimens was initially an underdeveloped aspect of biobank growth.[1] There is currently discussion on what standards should be in place and who should manage those standards. Since many organizations set their own standards and since biobanks are necessarily used by multiple organizations and typically are driven towards expansion, the harmonization of standard operating procedures for lab practices are a high priority.[1] The procedures have to be evidence-based and will change with time as new research and technology becomes available.[1]

Policy makers

Some progress for the creation of policy-making organizations include the [1] Aspects of ISO 9000 have been applied to biobanks.[1]

Quality goals

Quality criteria for specimens depends on the study being considered and there is not a universal standard specimen type.[1] DNA integrity is an important factor for studies which involve whole genome amplification.[3] RNA integrity is critical for some studies and can be assessed by gel electrophoresis.[4] Also biobanks, which do specimen storage, cannot take full responsibility for specimen integrity, because before they take custody of samples someone must collect and process them and effects such as RNA degradation are more likely to occur from delayed sample processing than inadequate storage.[5]

Samples stored

Biorepositories store various types of specimens. Different specimens are useful for different purposes.

Biobank specimens
specimen uses extraction technique storage characteristics
cheek tissue DNA profiling buccal swab participants can collect themselves; can be collected by mail; so easy to collect that informed consent may be insufficiently addressed
whole blood venipuncture requires phlebotomist to collect
Dried blood spot gives high quality DNA and RNA Fingerstick stores easily for years at room temperature
organ tissue gives high quality DNA, RNA, Mitochondrial DNA, and source of disease Biopsy many uses shared with blood; also suitable for proteomic analysis; may be difficult to obtain
Plasma limited DNA and RNA content Blood plasma fractionation requires phlebotomist to collect
Urine marker for some diagnostic tests Urination non-invasive
Feces marker for some diagnostic tests Stool sample non-invasive
Skin Mostly used by forensic teams investigating criminal cases in criminal cases, collected without consent of donor
Hair Mostly used by forensic teams investigating criminal cases Hair analysis in criminal cases, collected without consent of donor

Storage techniques

Many specimens in biobanks are cryopreserved. Other specimens are stored in other ways.[6]

Techniques associated with biobanks

Some of the laboratory techniques associated with biological specimen storage include phenol-chloroform extraction, PCR, and RFLP.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Hewitt, R. E. (2011). "Biobanking: The foundation of personalized medicine". Current Opinion in Oncology 23 (1): 112–119.  
  2. ^ Moore, H. M.; Compton, C. C.; Lim, M. D.; Vaught, J.; Christiansen, K. N.; Alper, J. (2009). "2009 Biospecimen Research Network Symposium: Advancing Cancer Research Through Biospecimen Science". Cancer Research 69 (17): 6770–6772.  
  3. ^ Yuille, M.; Illig, T.; Hveem, K.; Schmitz, G.; Hansen, J.; Neumaier, M.; Tybring, G.; Wichmann, E.; Ollier, B. (2010). "Laboratory Management of Samples in Biobanks: European Consensus Expert Group Report". Biopreservation and Biobanking 8 (1): 65–9.  
  4. ^ Guerin, J. S.; Murray, D. W.; McGrath, M. M.; Yuille, M. A.; McPartlin, J. M.; Doran, P. P. (2010). "Molecular Medicine Ireland Guidelines for Standardized Biobanking". Biopreservation and Biobanking 8: 3.  
  5. ^ Barnes, M. G.; Grom, A. A.; Griffin, T. A.; Colbert, R. A.; Thompson, S. D. (2010). "Gene Expression Profiles from Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells Are Sensitive to Short Processing Delays". Biopreservation and Biobanking 8 (3): 153–162.  
  6. ^ Elliott, P.; Peakman, T. C.; Uk, B. (2008). "The UK Biobank sample handling and storage protocol for the collection, processing and archiving of human blood and urine". International Journal of Epidemiology 37 (2): 234–244.  

External links

  • Biospecimen research database, a curated collection of articles about biospecimens
  • Office of Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research
  • Biospecimen Research Network Symposia, a conference on biobank specimens
  • Mayo Clinic on biobanking
  • Short Public TV episode on museum Collections
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