The short answer is that all Biobanks are Biorepositories, but not all Biorepositories are Biobanks. Realistically speaking, the terms “Biobank” and “Biorepository” are used pretty interchangeably. I used them interchangeably myself in a previous article. However, for those looking to make technical distinctions, there are those willing to talk definitions with us. So this blog post aims to clarify the blurry distinction between the two terms, at least on the technical front, for those who recognize these differences, which are not universally recognized. The differences we can point out when someone asks:
- What is the difference between Biobanks and Biorepositories?
Biobanks are a special type of Biorepository. They are essentially dedicated, specialized spaces for the storage of human tissue samples, predominantly for research purposes. Cell lines, ganglia, blood, stem cells, etc. Technically speaking, only biological tissues of human origin are stored in Biobanks. Biobanks are typically equipped with backup generators so that samples being stored at specific temperatures facilitated by electric power never fall outside their target temperature range. Biobanks typically hold specialized freezers that do not undergo thaw cycles, liquid nitrogen cooling equipment, and other specialized storage facilities which control light and temperature for tissues requiring warmer storage.
Biobanks’ functions are not limited to optimal sample storage; they also facilitate better sample sorting, tracking, and distribution, to provide ease of access for researchers and a clear sample chain of custody for all relevant personnel. They tend to serve research directed exclusively to the biology of the human body. Because of this, Biobanks are often affiliated with organizations equipped to ethically solicit and obtain samples of human tissues, such as pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and academic institutions.
Biorepositories of the general sort function as ideally conditioned spaces for the storage, retrieval, and sorting of any type of biological material. Plant material, animal material, bacterial material, or human material can all be stored in Biorepositories, technically speaking. They differ from Biobanks in that Biobanks are supposedly dedicated spaces for storing exclusively human biological materials. They’re similar to Biobanks in much of the way they’re equipped with regards to specialized freezers, multiple backup generators, liquid nitrogen cooling systems, and other light-and-temperature-controlled storage facilities. Although Biobanks might hold more specialized equipment for the storage of more varying types of cell cultures and such.
Biorepositories can hypothetically serve a number of biological research purposes, from human and veterinary medicine to agricultural crop improvement. Under that definition, a Biorepository can be associated with multiple research institutions, as opposed to being exclusively associated with biomedical research organizations.
It is important to remember that for many scientists, research associates, administrators, investors, regulators, and generally, a large number of those involved in a scientific or biomedical field in any capacity, the above-mentioned distinctions are fairly blurry. You might find major institutions who call their facility a Biorepository, whilst using it exclusively for human biomaterial. Or vice versa. Biobanks holding biological material from all life forms.
If you’re reading international industry literature translated to English, or in their original language, it may be worth noting that these kinds of linguistic definitions might not apply in certain languages.
These differences primarily concern those leaning towards making technical distinctions. They are useful distinctions however; in case you ever work with people who don’t seem to be using the terms “Biobank” and “Biorepository” interchangeably. Looking back on this information, you’ll know where they’re coming from.