Improving Quality through Biospecimen Research


Part of IBBL’s vision is to become an international centre of excellence in biobanking and contribute to the developments of best practice guidelines for biorepositories around the world.

There is an increasing worldwide demand for high-quality, well annotated biospecimens to support scientific research and development, and a concomitant awareness and need for quality biobanks. The main role of IBBL is to provide research support infrastructure to other organisations carrying out biomedical research. However, IBBL also performs biospecimen research to improve biobanking processes both within the organisation and in other biobanks across the globe.

To this end, IBBL regularly collaborates with the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER). ISBER is the leading international forum that aims to harmonise approaches to solve technical, legal, ethical, and managerial issues relevant to repositories of biological and environmental specimens. A number of joint projects have been successfully completed.


Luxembourg Acts as a World-Wide Laboratory Test Centre

Assuring the quality of biological samples collected by biobanks is crucial to guarantee meaningful outcomes from research studies involving those samples. A number of laboratory tests such as measuring the quantity and quality of DNA can serve to assess the quality of a biological sample. But how can one be confident that the results obtained by a laboratory are true and accurate? This is the aim of a proficiency testing (PT) programme, which allows laboratories to determine the performance of their quality control by comparing results they obtained from a reference sample with the known or ‘true’ results. Accreditation bodies require that laboratories participate in PT programmes wherever possible as it not only provides quality assurance but also proof of competence and increased confidence among staff.

IBBL has collaborated with ISBER to provide PT schemes to the international biobanking community.  IBBL acts as a technical partner to ISBER for the production of test samples with known reference values, organisation of all the logistics, management of the value assignment and evaluation of the results. This collaboration, for which IBBL project manager Francesca Poloni, PhD, also received the Biobanking Poster Award at the 2012 ISBER annual meeting, puts IBBL and Luxembourg on the map as a reference centre testing laboratories around the world.


Short-Term Stability Study of RNA at Room Temperature

IBBL’s first project with ISBER was a collaboration with the Biospecimen Science Working Group comparing conditions for storing RNA isolated from blood samples at room temperature. Similar to DNA, RNA is one of the molecules in every cell of an organism that is essential for all functions of life. RNA is more fragile than DNA and it is believed that RNA quickly degrades when stored at room temperature. IBBL scientists confirmed that when certain commercially available preservative products or highly pure RNA preparations are used, RNA can be stored at room temperature for short periods of time without detectable loss of material or quality.

Conny Mathay, PhD, the scientist at IBBL who led the study comments: “Such technical advances considerably facilitate sample storage and transport and in addition provide a more cost-effective and eco-friendly solution for biobanks handling and exchanging RNA samples world-wide.”  The results of this project were presented at the 2012 ISBER annual meeting, published in December 2012 and also implemented in the PT programme.


Standard PREanalytical Code (SPREC)

Together with the ISBER Biospecimen Science Working Group, IBBL has developed a tool that identifies and records the main preanalytical factors that may impact the integrity of sampled clinical fluids and solid biospecimens and their simple derivatives during collection, processing and storage. These include elements such as warm or cold ischemia time, type and time of fixation, centrifugation times, and type of container used for storage. The ability to manage and track preanalytical variations is fundamental to the provision of high quality tissue samples for research, and the effective and efficient interconnectivity and interoperability between national and international biobanks.

The tool, called SPRECalc, employs Excel worksheets to generate a 7-element-long biospecimen characterization code (called SPREC, for Standard PREanalytical Code), which can be converted into a barcode and added to the annotation of the sample. IBBL Quality Manager Sabine Lehmann, PhD is the lead author of a publication reporting the latest SPREC and the release notes for SPRECalc. She is aware of at least thirteen biobanks or biobank networks in the US, Europe, Korea and Australia and of at least three commercial biobanks who have already implemented the SPREC.


Chief Scientific Officer Fay Betsou Elected ISBER President

Finally, IBBL is proud that its Chief Scientific Officer Fay Betsou, PhD, HDR, has been elected to serve as the President of ISBER in 2013-14. Dr. Betsou, at IBBL since 2010, is a molecular biologist with over 15 years of experience in molecular diagnostics, disease-oriented biobanking and biospecimen research, and over 8 years of experience in quality control application to biobanks. She holds a PhD in molecular microbiology and a habilitation in immunophysiopathology, molecular diagnostics and biostatistics from the Université René Descartes (Paris V). At IBBL, Dr. Betsou directs the biospecimen research team and advises on biospecimen collection and processing procedures for the various national and international biomedical research projects that IBBL supports.

Dr. Betsou will take over her duties as ISBER President at the 2013 ISBER Annual Meeting in May 2013. She plans to reinforce the scientific character of ISBER (e.g. scientific publications, research projects, biobank accreditation) and to promote on-going activities, including the Certified Repository Technician programme and the Proficiency Testing programme.