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The importance of biobanking

Researchers have always frozen and stored biological samples. Sometimes this is needed to enable samples collected at multiple time point to be compared in a single experiment, providing a robust experimental design allowing changes over time to be tracked accurately. In other studies it takes time to collect the samples required from different patient and control groups, so that they can be compared. Once the primary experiments are completed remaining samples can be exploited for further confirmatory experiments or for exploratory work leading to new grant applications. However this work and information remains within the researcher’s institution.

Biobanking has been a game changer. The standardised protocols for sample handling and freezing provide high quality samples. Dedicated centralised storage facilities and databases provide information on how many samples of a particular type are available, with confidence that they have been stored correctly. Like the contents of a home freezer, thawed samples are usually only fit for the dustbin, so dedicated systems are needed for early warnings of freezer malfunction. But more than safe-guarding high quality samples, a Biobank provides a resource for the research community. No researcher could have information of their original samples on open access, but anyone can discover what is stored in a Biobank. There are always processes to review requests for samples, to ensure that such valuable samples can be used for well-planned and relevant research, but a biobank provides a resource for the global research community. The ME/CFS community now has a biobank of patient samples hosted by the UK ME/CFS Biobank and we hope these samples can accelerate research towards better understanding and treatment of this debilitating disease.

Professor Hazel Dockrell, Professor of Immunology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine