Ever wondered what biobanking means or what it entails? PanTHERA CryoSolutions sat down with Dr. Fay Betsou, from the Biological Resource Center of Institut Pasteur (CRBIP), to hear about the challenges and rewards of biobanking.
After a PhD on acellular vaccines for Bordetella infections at Institut Pasteur, and an HDR (Habilitation a Diriger des Recherches) on Chlamydia infections and diagnostics, Fay Betsou worked for 25 years in clinical biobanking, with a special focus on biospecimen research. She also has 15 years of experience in International Organization for Standards (ISO) application to biobanks.
Could you share with us Dr. Fay, how do you explain your work to people who don’t work in your field?
So, when I have to explain what I do to others, I will say, that I am responsible for an infrastructure called a biobank. A biobank is an infrastructure that holds and stores biological specimens. There are different types of biobanks. Some of them are used to store specimens that are used in therapy and some are for storing specimens that are used in research. In my case, it is the second, the biobank I am responsible for is one that stores specimens used in research and there are many different types of specimens, such as bacterial strains, fungal strains, just to name a few. We receive these samples, and we process them to prepare them for various research purposes. There will be some quality control done and in general the specimens are cryopreserved. By cryopreserving the samples, we ensure that integrity is maintained, and they are fit for purpose for downstream research. Therefore, what we do is very important in the research community. Around 80% of campus researchers use biological specimens for their research.
Hence the biobank is a necessary catalyst in aiding new discoveries, and because it is necessary to validate these discoveries, the specimens need to be of good quality.
What do you think is a challenging aspect of your work or a problem that you hope to solve?
For me, personally, a problem that I have been trying to solve for the past 20 years is the issue of sample qualification and it is a complex problem because it depends on the type of specimen and anticipated use. When we say sample qualification, we refer to quality control and how we can ensure a specific specimen is of the necessary quality in order to be used in a specific type of analysis. And biospecimen research is fairly new because I mean, 20 years ago, nobody would be asking these questions. But now, more and more scientists and researchers are aware of the criticality of sample quality and so we are now exploring and finding answers to the questions we have had for a long time. And a lot of progress has been made, a lot of solutions and answers to different questions have been found over the last 15 years.
Now, can you share with us your Eureka moment, any moment in your personal life or work that you feel stands out for you?
Yes, I mean, for me it was when I first found out about this discipline, biobanking, many years ago, and I thought to myself, well, this is really cool. Because it is so diverse, and interesting, it has such a wide impact, and you get to work with scientists, doctors from all disciplines. You can never get bored at work because there are always new things to learn and different people you encounter. The possibilities are endless. And while there are challenging moments, there was not a moment I felt that ‘oh it cannot be done’.
Can you share with us what are some of your projects that you are working on presently?
There are several things ongoing at the moment but a significant project for the biobank presently would be the accreditation regarding microbial specimens. There is a lot involved in this because of how validation must be done in the lab and there are various methods that you use pertaining to the relevant specimens. We also perform sample authentication and there is no room for mistakes when it comes to confirming the identity of the specimen. New methods that will be used in the lab need to be validated and put in the context of accreditation to move forward.
Do you have a goal or a dream that you would like to see happen for biobanking?
Yes, I hope to see more official recognition of the importance specimens have in research. If regulators recognised more formally the critical importance of specimen quality in the research process, there would be more formal reporting requirements in regulatory submissions.
What do you think of PanTHERA CryoSolutions’ Ice Recrystallization Inhibitors (IRIs) and their relevance to biobanking?
Yes, preservation is a big theme here at the biobank and IRIs could be a better way to cryopreserve different types of specimens, especially for more sensitive cells. Cryopreservation is such an essential part of what we do, because it is what keeps the specimens viable while they are awaiting retrieval. It would be interesting to see how microbial cells which are more fragile to cryopreservation conditions react to the IRIs. It warrants further investigation in the various aspects of biobanking and as I mentioned earlier everything depends on the type of specimen.
This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
About PanTHERA CryoSolutions
PanTHERA CryoSolutions is a Canadian corporation that designs and manufactures cryopreservation solutions for cells, tissues and organs for research and clinical markets. Our patented ice recrystallization inhibitor (IRI) technology exceeds other products by providing superior cryopreservation and increasing post-thaw cell recovery and function for our customers. The technology enables the use of significantly less costly storage and transportation systems limiting the need for liquid nitrogen use for some cell therapy applications