Interview: The challenge of moving a biobank

By the end of the year 2017, IBBL will have moved its operations to a permanent building in Dudelange. Katy Beaumont, team leader at the Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg, has been involved in the preparation work of this milestone in IBBL history. She reflects on her experience and unveils the strategy of transfering her department: IBBL’s biorepository, its freezers, its tanks and more than 400,000 samples.

Interview by Mélanie Moxhet

MM: The biorepository is the real bio-“bank” of IBBL, so to speak, where the journey of a sample starts and ends. Could you please explain to us its role and structure?

KB: IBBL’s biorepository has a dual role: it serves as a biobanking infrastructure and as a logistics centre. Our operations consist, on the one hand, of guaranteeing the safe and appropriate storage of biological samples, such as blood, saliva, stool, tissue and urine. On the other hand, we also prepare, assemble and ship the sample collection kits – roughly speaking a hundred per week – to collection centres in Luxembourg and abroad. We also collect the samples as they come back to the biobank before handling their redistribution to researchers the world over.

For the time being, all these operations are performed in one single room. Working in 90 m² environment is constraining and challenges our organisational skills more and more every day. Over 7 years, our equipment has grown from 5 cold storage units to 20. However good we are at playing Tetris, we could barely add one more freezer to our collection!

MM: Today, IBBL’s activity is growing and the capacity of the current building seemingly restrains its development. Will the move to Dudelange help lift this barrier?

KB: In Dudelange, we will move to a brand new world. We will have 500 m² for the biorepository department alone. To begin with, the biorepository will be equipped with 8 liquid nitrogen tanks and 13 freezers. The cold room also represents a key improvement in terms of space optimisation and sample stability. This extra floor area will allow us to multiply the number of our cold storage units, but also to separate the different types of our operations and perform multiple tasks in parallel. Not to mention that the flexibility that comes along with the new building promises to diversify and adapt our services to the researchers’ needs. Who knows what the future holds…

MM: As the biorepository team leader, you have been involved in the move plan from the beginning. What does this duty imply?

KB: If my memory serves me well, the preparation work started in 2016. Representatives from each department started to sit around the table with the mission to move our operations whilst ensuring the continuity of our services and the integrity of the samples in collection. We have all been working together on a move plan, which complies to our quality management system and considers the potential risks at all critical steps.

In parallel to the organisation of the actual move, there are many more aspects to consider. Let’s take the example of the sample collection circuit. As we are moving away from the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg, we have to re-organise the pick up of the samples from all hospitals and collection centres in Luxembourg twice a day. We also had to notify all couriers about our new address.

MM: Could you please tell me how the transport of over 400,000 samples and lab equipment will be coordinated?

KB: The move has been designed in two phases. Priority was given to the long-term storage, so that the freezers and liquid nitrogen tanks will be validated and fully operational when the sample processing and quality control starts in Dudelange. A specialised moving company will assure the packing and transport. The samples will remain the whole time in the tanks and freezers, powered by generators installed in the trucks. It is critical for IBBL to ensure their temperature, so is their traceability from point A to B and their safety: the Luxembourgish police has even kindly accepted to escort us to our destination!

Some of our suppliers will also be on site on the D day. They will assist us with the packing, unpacking and revalidation of the equipment on the spot. The equipment and all boxes will be coded to remind the company what goes where, and each staff member of IBBL will be responsible for a designated piece of equipment. It is a fantastic team building exercise!

MM: One last word about your personal experience and impression?

KB: Planning the move has been a challenging, yet learning, adventure. It has been a time-consuming job which required combined efforts from both our staff and collaborators. We are now ready and I am convinced everything will run smoothly. I am looking forward to starting working in an environment that will even better satisfy our partners’ needs, with state of the art equipment and technologies. The new building in Dudelange opens up new horizons.

MM: Thank you Katy for taking the time to answer my questions, and good luck with the move!