A critical analysis of cancer biobank practices in relation to biospecimen quality


There are concerns that a substantial proportion of published research data is not reproducible, which may partially explain the frequent failure to translate pre-clinical results to clinical care. High-quality cancer biospecimens are needed for robust, reproducible research findings, with most researchers obtaining these specimens from cancer biobanks or tumour banks. This review provides an overview of the types of quality control (QC) activities conducted within cancer biobanks that pertain to biospecimen quality and of biospecimen quality reporting tools, including SPREC and BRISQ. We examine how QC assay results and other biospecimen data are communicated from biobanks to researchers, and whether these activities lead to improved biospecimen quality reporting within the literature and/or to improved research outcomes. We also discuss operational factors that limit QC activities within biobanks and evidence gaps requiring further research. In summary, whereas the provision of quality biospecimens is a common aim of cancer biobanks, QC activities remain underreported and are rarely discussed in the literature, compared with other aspects of biobank operations. Further research is required to determine how biobanks can most efficiently optimise biospecimen quality, and how communication between biobanks and researchers can be improved.

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AR and JB gratefully acknowledge funding from the Cancer Institute NSW (14/BIO/1-05) to the Kids Cancer Alliance, which supported the preparation of this review. KS gratefully acknowledges funding support from CONCERT, a Cancer Institute NSW-funded Translational Cancer Research Centre. We are also grateful to members of the Cancer Institute NSW Biobanking Stakeholder Network and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead Tumour Bank for discussions.

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This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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Correspondence to Jennifer A. Byrne.

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Rush, A., Spring, K. & Byrne, J.A. A critical analysis of cancer biobank practices in relation to biospecimen quality. Biophys Rev 7, 369–378 (2015).

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  • Biobank
  • Cancer
  • Biospecimen quality
  • Research reproducibility
  • Quality control
  • Reporting