Thursday, August 28, 2014

Biobanking: The Last Three Years and the Next Five

When it comes to changes in the biobanking industry over the last few years, a variety of different trends are being observed.  Some have seen an increase in investment in proactive business and strategic planning.  Others have observed the industry beginning to leverage big data.  Sherry Sawyer, Director of the BWH at the BWH / Harvard Cohorts Biorepository, has seen some other changes and projects even more to come over the next five years.

How have you seen the industry change in the last two to three years?

Sherry: This is an industry that is changing a lot and it’s changing a lot every day. It’s really an industry that in the last two to three years has come to the forefront of global awareness, both in the academic science, big government science, as well as the industry science arenas.

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What do the next five years have in store for biobanking?
It’s hard to pinpoint specific changes, but I would say that one of the biggest changes that I’ve seen since working in the field of biobanking and biorepository management is really just the increase in communication among different biorepositories, the increase in collaboration among biorepositories and the increase in interest among different biorepository and scientific managers and directors and investigators. Even across institutions to find ways to better standardize the work that they do and to increase the quality of the biospecimens that they are using and to learn more about the “fit for purpose use” for the specimens they have. Or how to better manage data or collect more data or more standardized data sets around biospecimens that would increase their ability to share among different groups and in collaborative environments.

So, I think that some of the biggest changes have to do with this increase in awareness and communication among groups. That’s really something that is relatively new in the biobanking scene in terms of, I would say, three to five years’ worth of time. But, it is really starting to pick up and increase.

Going back to something else you just said. I believe you just mentioned that the industry is changing a lot. So, how do you see the biobanking management industry changing over the next five years?

Sherry: Some of the biggest years that have changed and come on the scene recently have to do with automation. So, there is a huge push to move biorepositories forward in a more automated manner.

So, running a biorepository – especially a large one – is very labor-intensive. It can utilize lots of human labor, which is a point of expense in managing biorepository. It can also be a point of time, right? Humans don’t work 24 hours a day. They can only accomplish so much in a given time period without taking a break. So, there has been this big push to include more and more robotics and robotic-assisted functions in biorepositories all the way from simple robotic solutions like tube labelers and scanners and things like that to some very elaborate robotic solutions for biobanking that have to do with automated freezer units that are really pretty crazily high-tech.

So, I think that the way that management is changing is that more and more biorepository managers are having to move from being people-centric and focused on work flows of people and how to manage teams to accomplish goals for their group to understanding how to incorporate those robotics and automated solutions into their groups. And how to manage the bridge, if you will, between samples that were collected and processed and stored and distributed prior to the introduction of automation and bridging that gap between those previous samples that were done in a more manual way to moving forward in a more automated environment. It’s clear that we’re all going to have to find a way to include some sort of automation in our groups or increase our efficiency in some way so that we can achieve our goal of sharing biospecimens more broadly.

Download Sherry’s full interview here.

You can hear more from Sherry at this year’s Biorepositories and Sample Management conference.  Join us September 8-10 in Boston, MA. Download the agenda to see what else is on tap.

SAVE $100. Register here and use code XP1998BLOG.

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