More than a traditional biobank

Beyond the full range of bioservices that it offers, IBBL also carries out its own research focused on the quality of biospecimens. To guarantee the optimal use of the biological samples donated by volunteers, its researchers investigate the impact of variations during the collection, processing and storage of the samples on downstream laboratory analyses. Overall, IBBL’s various in-house research projects led to an outstanding number of 21 scientific articles published in peer-reviewed journals in 2016.

21 scientific publications in 2016

Technical report for all quality control assays

New quality control assay

20% of blood miRNAs are highly unstable

Impact of 10-y storage on tissue quality

Assuring sample collection integrity

Preserving biospecimen quality during long-term storage is of key importance for biobanks. Together with the Imperial College London, the Ukrainian Institute of Endocrinology and Metabolism, and the Russian Medical Radiological Research Centre, IBBL’s biospecimen research team explored the effect of 10 years of storage in -80°C freezers on tissues. Using a large size of samples stored at the Chernobyl Tissue Bank, they found out that the storage time had not degraded tissue quality. “A wide collection of thyroid cancer biospecimens were amassed after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. The study ensures that the frozen tissues are fit for the purpose of researchers interested in radiation-induced cancer”, comments Dr William Mathieson, Scientist at IBBL.

Optimising biobanking workflows

While Dr Mathieson and his team focused primarily on preservation methods, other research projects evaluated ways to collect and handle biological samples in 2016. For one of these projects, IBBL teamed up with the metabolomics research group at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) of the University of Luxembourg to benefit from its complementary expertise. Researchers compared the impact of variations in temperature and delays during the processing of blood samples on downstream metabolomics applications.

« Not monitoring pre-analytical factors can lead to non-reproducible lab results, especially in highly dynamic fields such as metabolomics. Based on our study, we recommend that samples intended for metabolomics research be kept on ice and processed within no more than 3 hours after blood collection. »

Jean-Pierre Trezzi
Visiting Scientist at IBBL

Based on these results, a quality control (QC) assay, the LacaScore, was developed and validated. It serves to assess the quality of plasma samples and their suitability for metabolomics research. The LacaScore proved to have an 88% diagnostic accuracy in identifying samples with compromised pre-analytical conditions, and it is thus an innovative and useful QC tool. QC assays are performed to qualify samples before being used in actual experiments so to avoid wasting time and resources. Although gaps still exist, many QC tools are available and can be used to objectively assess the quality of biospecimens. Based on the current state of knowledge, Dr Fay Betsou, IBBL’s Chief Scientific Officer, coordinated the ISBER Biospecimen Research Working Group for the development of a global quality control strategy. This publication is likely to become an essential tool for the biobanking community as it guides readers to the use of the correct biospecimen quality control assays, based on their specific research goals.

Sharing knowledge

MicroRNAs (miRNA) have been the core of multiple biomarker research projects lately. In this context, two scientists at IBBL have studied the stability of miRNAs in order to establish whether these nucleic acids could be considered as reliable diagnostic or prognostic biomarkers. Over a 1-year period, they analysed miRNA variability in different blood derivatives collected every 2-3 months from two healthy donors. The results showed a random and significant variability of roughly 20% of the targeted blood miRNAs within the same individual over time.

« We therefore recommended that the intraindividual variability of these specific miRNAs be taken into consideration in biomarker research. »

Wim Ammerlaan
IBBL’s Team Leader of Technological Platforms

Enhancing efficiency through collaboration

Biospecimen research is essential for IBBL to continuously improve the ways to collect, process, qualify and store biological samples, but also for the global biomedical research and biobanking community. Collaborating with industrial partners in the evaluation and validation of technologies, equipment and consumables is also part of IBBL’s daily job. Over the years, the biospecimen research team, led by Dr Betsou, has completed manifold successful international collaborations. Several are already in the pipeline for the coming years. For example, IBBL has been working on the development of QC assays for CSF – cerebrospinal fluid found in the brain and spinal cord – in collaboration with the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, and for serum, plasma and PBMC – peripheral blood mononuclear cells – with ISBER’s Proficiency Testing Advisory Group. It will also keep on performing cross validation of QC markers identified together with the US National Cancer Institute and on optimising sample processing methods, such as tissue fixation.


Keep on reading our 2016 annual report: