Brainstorming Biobanking Applications

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Much of this article is sourced from the article titled 'Libraries of Flesh: The Sorry State of Tissue Storage' [1] by Steve Silberman via Wired Magazine online. Let's enumerate the problems cited in the article 1) there is not enough source material to go around for certain research purposes 2) proper forms are not filled out making the sample material available 3) there are legal implications to this -- one cannot SELL biological material, it is against US Federal law -- organizations can ONLY charge for incidentals like shipping, etc. 4) some biobanks do not know what is in their freezers (poor inventory management) 5) specimens are not being checked before being stored 6) specimens are of inadequate size, unfit for analysis. Also, "Specimen collection and storage conditions performed by different laboratories create variations in specimen quality." [2]

Disclaimer: My analysis in this post is purely from a software development perspective -- I'm envisioning a software system with global scope that could be accessible by physicians, patients (primarily to provide verifiable, third-party specimen use authorizations), and researchers. Nothing in this article is meant to convey medical advice and it is provided for informational purposes only.

Now that that's out of the way let's map out the current cycle of events. Let's have a patient, d_patient in my simple diagram, be the source for a specimen. Patient has some diseased tissue and a physician extracts a sample of the material, stores it, and sends the material to the biobank.

According to the article for certain types of research there was not enough material or it was improperly collected. The specimen can also be damaged by the storage process itself. Information technology cannot fix the last item but it could attack the first two.

The problem with there not being enough material can potentially be solved by knowing, in advance, what the value of a particular specimen might be and the quantity desired. Essentially one would need to have a kind of 'hit list' of sought-after specimens created by the researchers themselves. A software system could then use a set of computer algorithms to match researcher desires (specimen type, quantity, etc.) to patients exhibiting particular disease symptoms -- a bit like how or match people together -- except in this case it would match disease conditions to researcher needs with physicians acting as a necessary go-between.

biobank global app interactions

And here is where larger-scale software systems come into play. A localized system won't work for an application like this. You need a system that researchers can readily access, input their day to day needs, and get updates regarding specimen availability. I'm guessing a web-based system would be equally accessible by all of the interested parties. Patients could enter to submit their release forms (okay, I'm purposefully ignoring the HIPAA issues here -- perhaps a separate system could capture authorizations while the main system could hold specimen tracking data) and physicians could read up-to-date SOPs and enter/handle match conditions between patients and researchers. The receiving laboratories can run needed assays to ensure the viability of the sample. Results would be made available to the researchers.

In order to induce donation researchers could place 'bounties' on the specimen. Now, it is illegal to pay for human biological material but it should be possible to compensate for other associated expenses like material storage, patient medical costs associated with the extraction, etc.

My prediction is that if a system like this existed it would completely change the way biological material is sourced, stored, and used in research. Instead of scanning through dozens of biobanks for material and waiting around researchers could place their orders in a central place and initiatite the collection process months in advance. The costs of collecting these specimens would effectively drop -- the researchers time and effort in finding samples would decline and the time spent by physicians in trying to keep up with numerous SOPs for collection would be reduced as well. The problem of failing to have the correct authorizations would also be effectively eliminated.

Again, I'm just brainstorming. Have further ideas? Send them to me via Twitter.


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Citation: Brainstorming Biobanking Applications. (2012). Retrieved Sat Jun 23 10:14:27 2018, from;iid=readMore;go=1338778001