To the Editor:
Thank you for your discussion "Start with the Sample" in the April 2011 issue of Genome Technology. It is a vital topic and accessing quality samples in biobanks is of utmost importance to advancing science and discovery. The challenge of finding and obtaining relevant samples is only the beginning, and laws governing sample collection and patient consent, as you rightly point out, only adds to the complexity. We would like to address your statement: "Until repositories can step up the quality of their collections to meet the demands of genomics tools, this sample shortage will prove to be the weak link in oncology research."
While the challenges of both quality and traceability of the sample lifecycle — from collection to storage to processing and disposal — are growing exponentially, many biobanks and research facilities have met these obstacles head-on and are developing next-generation IT solutions that bridge this gap. To simplify the management of the physical samples, many biobanks take advantage of the latest instrumentation and automation systems. However, while this is important, it only solves a piece of the puzzle. In order to provide a best-in-class service to researchers, biobanks must integrate these tools with, and take advantage of, the knowledge and data made available by a Laboratory Information Management System. With a LIMS, biobanks are able to track biospecimens and their complete lineage throughout this lifecycle, along with important events that impact quality, like freeze/thaws. For these organizations, a LIMS plays a critical role in addressing their top concern: providing top quality samples for scientific research.
The challenge that biobanks face extends far beyond just the samples themselves. These facilities also need to manage the information associated with the samples, such as patient demographics, consent records, and chain of custody — all of which are required to fulfill complex sample requests from researchers, and protect patient rights. By managing all of this information in one place, biobanks are able to get a clear picture of all of their biospecimens and better serve the research community.
To see some best-practices examples of how some organizations have successfully implemented solutions to overcome the challenges you discussed in your story, please visit the following links:
Trish Meek and Susan Najjar
The authors are, respectively, the director of product strategy, Life Sciences, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and informatics marketing, Thermo Fisher Scientific.
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