Jul 24, 2023 11:25:11 AM | Quality Control History Of Biobanking

The Evolution of Biobanking: From Ancient Origins to Modern Breakthroughs

It Starts With A Specimen

In the realm of medical research, the utilization of human biospecimens and biomaterials embarked on a slow and captivating journey. Diverse cultures once viewed autopsies taboo, some even forbidding dissection altogether, opting instead for cremation or organ preservation. However, throughout  history, the brilliance of pioneering minds and relentless advancements have paved the way for the establishment and evolution of biobanks, catalyzing a revolution in medical research.[4]

300 B.C.

Around 300 B.C., the trailblazing physicians Herophilus and Erasistratus of Alexandria initiated the earliest dissections for medical research. This marked the dawn of comprehension in human anatomy, laying the groundwork for future discoveries. The 2nd century A.D. witnessed the esteemed physician Galen conducting autopsies to ascertain the cause of death by scrutinizing affected organs. Subsequently, Renaissance luminaries like Leonardo da Vinci embarked on dissections, meticulously crafting precise portrayals of the human body.[4]


Amidst the Civil War in 1862, the Department of Defense (DoD) birthed the first biorepository within the confines of the Army Medical Museum in Washington, D.C. This momentous event marked a profound leap in preserving human specimens for the pursuit of scientific inquiry.[4]


In 1906, Alois Alzheimer's lost slides were found once again, reaffirming the historic significance of the DoD's biorepository as the pioneer of stored specimens.[4]


The mid-1900s witnessed the advent of groundbreaking transplant surgeries, triggering the inception of organ donation programs and the emergence of organ banks. Technological strides in preservation techniques facilitated the burgeoning demand for viable organs.[3]


In the 19th century, biologists reshaped their perception, envisioning their work as a comprehensive study of the entire organism. This shift in perspective ushered in the revolutionary cell theory, posing cells as the fundamental building blocks of all living tissue. A 1912 experiment revealed that under the right conditions, cells could be kept alive indefinitely, propelling human tissue research to unexplored heights.[4]


In 1951 patient Henrietta Lacks underwent surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital,  enabling the acquisition of the first cancer cell line, christened HeLa, without her consent. This trailblazing achievement birthed the first immortalized cancer cell line, laying the foundation of cell line biobanking.[1]


The success of the HeLa cell line spurred the stabilization and utilization of immortalized cell lines for medical research. This led to the establishment of a multitude of continuous cancer cell lines in the 1970s and 1980s, signifying an era of remarkable progress.[1]



In 1982, the AIDS Specimen Bank was established at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), as an AIDS  intervention strategy. This pioneering initiative greatly impacted the evolution of biobanking.[1]


A remarkable surge in biobanks took place, with 40% of European biobanks being established in the 1990s and an additional 37% of biobanks established in the 2000s.[1]


In 1996 the term "biobank" first appeared in scientific literature, underscoring the growing recognition of these repositories.[4, 5]


1998 was marked by a pivotal event when the Icelandic Parliament passed the Act on Health Sector Database, laying the groundwork for a national biobank in Iceland.[8]


In 1999, the United States National Bioethics Advisory Commission issued a report, outlining policy recommendations concerning the ethical handling of human biological specimens, ushering in a new era of conscientious practice[4, 7]


In 1999, the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER) was established, with its inaugural meeting held in 2000. This momentous event fostered an atmosphere of collaboration and standardized practices within the biobanking community.[4]


First published in 2005, ISBER's Guide to Best Practices for Repositories solidified its reputation as an authoritative beacon guiding biorepositories and biobanks worldwide.[2]


In 2005, the United States National Cancer Institute created a division called the Office of Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research. This aimed to standardize operating procedures and establish a common database for biospecimen collections.[4, 8]



In 2006 The Council of The European Union adopted a groundbreaking policy, addressing the challenges specific to biobanks, ushering in a new era of regulatory framework.[4, 8]


In 2008 United States researchers stored 270 million specimens in biobanks, along with a new sample collection rate of 20 million samples annually.[8]


In 2009, Time Magazine listed biobanks as one of their "10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now"  acknowledging their impact on medical research.[4, 5]


In 2011 the European Biobanking and BioMolecular Resources Research Infrastructure (BBMRI) established the European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC), after a preparatory phase project, setting the framework for an era of collaborative biobanking.[1]


In 2012 the US National Cancer Human Biobank debuted its first-ever Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for biobanks, paving the path for consistent and reliable sample collection and data interpretation.[1, 6]


In 2013 the Declaration of Helsinki underwent its last revision, serving as a milestone in the preservation of human rights as it presented a comprehensive set of guidelines for medical research involving human subjects.[1]


In 2014 The ISO/Technical Committee (TC) 2761/Working Group (WG) 2 Biobanks and Bioresources was formed to establish a comprehensive set of international standards for biobanking.[1]


In 2018 the introduction of the "Biobanking—General Requirements for Biobanking" (ISO 20387:2018) guideline allowed for the reproducibility and comparability of scientific research results through standardized biobanking practices.[1]


In 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR-2018) provided important indications about Informed Consent (IC) setting forth a legal framework for the collection and processing of personal information.[1]


In May 2019 the Fourth Edition of ISBER Best Practices (2018) launched the LN2 addendum.[9]

We’ve come a long way since the first instances of human tissue collection. In the past, due to limited collaboration, budget and resource constraints, scientists collected biospecimens in isolation, determining best practices on their own, leading to inconsistent processing, hand recorded data and lower-quality samples which often were used only once. These challenges have been replaced with standardized procedures, and the advancements of the biobanks of today playing an indispensable role in medical research, rendering invaluable resources to scientists across the globe. 

At TriMetis, we’ve leveraged robotic automation, AI-powered quality control, as well as the streamlined digital and physical storage and organization of biospecimens, H&E images, and slides to drastically reduce human handling, increase productivity and tackle the challenges of today head on. We are committed to delivering tailor-made solutions to meet the evolving needs of researchers and the medical community. Contact us to learn more about our custom solution and unlock the boundless potential of biobanking.[3, 4, 5]

Written By: Kaitlynn Clement