University of Iowa Biobanks Set Standard for Biorepository Management


Doctors and scientists have long considered biobanking a vital component of medical research. While other methods, including animal testing and human trials, are also often necessary to uncover data and find solutions to different medical conditions, these biorepositories give researchers access to a valuable store of medical information. For this reason, many institutes and organizations have invested heavily in laboratory sample management software and other technology to store thousands of biological samples, in the hopes that these systems can help add to the field of translational medicine. Now, two researchers in Iowa are arguing that their success in biorepository management should serve as a model for other academic medical centers.

The Iowa Women’s Health Tissue Repository, an affiliate of the University of Iowa, is one of the few biobanks in the United States which collects samples from women throughout their pregnancies. As a result, the institute has access to a vast reserve of information that is being used to made important discoveries in the field of women’s health. For this reason, Donna Santillan and her husband, Mark, two assistant professors of obstetrics and gynecology who manage the biorepository, recently published a report in the European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology. This report explained how the research center had been able to improve the field of women’s health and also argued that their biorepository management techniques should be used by other university medical centers.

The Iowa Women’s Health Tissue Repository is comprised of four different tissue banks: the Well Woman Tissue Bank, Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Tissue Bank, Maternal Fetal Tissue Bank, and the Gynecologic Malignancies Tissue Bank. These banks solicit tissues from female patients of UI Women’s Health. Samples are taken at the same time as regular lab work, and in the case of pregnant participants, who provide cord blood and placentas, after delivery. This makes it easier for both the patients and the research center to complete this process. Once the samples are provided, the patient’s medical history is linked to the donation, further increasing the amount of information available to researchers.

Currently, one of the biobanks under the Santillans’ biorepository management, the Maternal Fetal Tissue bank, hold samples from more than 1,800 women, 80 of whom had multiple previous pregnancies. In the first four years it operated, this bank was used in more than 20 research studies. Additionally, the banks have made it possible for UI research teams to obtain seven funded grants and apply for three patent applications. However, the potential for translational medicine is clearly the institute’s biggest success: in one of the most promising studies, UI researchers were able to discover a potential early biomarker for preeclampsia. Their findings were published in the American Heart Association’s online journal, Hypertension

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