A Definition

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015
Deborah Mascalzoni (ed.)Ethics, Law and Governance of BiobankingThe International Library of Ethics, Law and Technology1410.1007/978-94-017-9573-9_2

Biobanks: A Definition

Barbara Parodi 

Biological Bank and Cell Factory, IRCCS AOU San Martino IST, Genoa, Italy



Barbara Parodi

The terms biorepository, Biological resource centre (BRC), biobank refer to structured collections of biological samples and associated data, stored for the purposes of present and future research. Both biorepositories (ISBER 2001) and BRCs (OECD 2007) can include tissues from humans, animals, cell and bacterial cultures, and even environmental samples (see below the OECD definition of BRCs), while a biobank typically handles human biospecimens—such as tissue, blood, urine—and information pertaining to the donors: demography and lifestyle, history of present illness, treatment and clinical outcomes.

1 Types of Biobanks

Biobanks can be established within academic medical or research institutions, pharmaceutical/biotechnology companies or as stand-alone organizations. A clear distinction among research, diagnostic and therapeutic biobanks is not always easy (i.e. cord blood stem cells, typically collected for therapeutic purposes, can be used for research, and tumor tissue samples can become the basis of tumor vaccines). Laboratories involved in cell therapy and tissue engineering clinical trials (cell factories) also handle biobanks for clinical use. However, legislation, ethical and social issues, handling of the biological specimens are remarkably different for these different types of biobanks.

Gottweis and Zatloukal (2007) differentiate between four types of research biobanks: clinical case/control based on biological specimens from patients with specific diseases and from non-diseased controls (e.g. pathology archives); longitudinal population based biobanks that follow a portion of the population over a large period of time (e.g. Estonian and UK Biobank); population isolate biobanks with a homogenous genetic and environmental setup of the population represented (e.g. the Icelandic Biobank); twin registries with samples from monozygotic and dizygotic twins (e.g. the GenomEUtwin and the Swedish Twin registry).

Rebulla et al. (2007) take the classification even further and differentiate between six types of biobanks: leftover tissue biobanks collected during clinical pathology diagnostic procedures; population biobanks; twin biobanks; disease biobanks form patients suffering from a specific condition; organ biobanks; nonhuman biobanks (e.g. Primate Brain Bank).

A more general distinction within the research biobank domain can be made between population based prospective biobanks (focused on the study of the development of common, complex diseases over time, and mainly based on blood/nucleic acids collection) and biobanks of tissue samples and clinical data (also referred to as disease oriented or clinical biobanks, mainly based on tissue sample collection). This classification has been used by the pan-European Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure (BBMRI), which has set two work packages on biobanks, WP2—population-based biobanks and WP3—disease-oriented biobanks.