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About the Authors

  • Rachael Stanley / Biorepository Manager

    Rachael Stanley is the manager of the Norwich Biorepository.

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How your samples are stored safely and securely

Rachael Stanley is the manager of the Biorepository. A biorepository, or tissue bank, stores samples of human tissue so that it can be used by researchers to study the causes of diseases and to develop new treatments.

Your samples are extremely important to us and future research, so we make sure that they are well looked after. Rachael’s role is to ensure that the samples are collected ethically and lawfully, and with you full consent and that your samples are correctly logged and stored.

We also make sure that the researchers who will use your samples follow strict protocols and procedures. An independent ethics committee will also review every research proposal, not only ensuring all research is carried out ethically, but also that your tissue samples are being put to the very best use.

Once we and the ethics committee are satisfied that the researchers have answered key questions of ethics fully, we work with the research teams to allow them to access the appropriate samples. If we already have tissue that people have consented to have banked in the biorepository, we will release that. Or we will help collect new tissue by identifying suitable patients or participants and seeing if they will consent to donating their tissue.

As well as collecting your sample, we collect some data, such as age, gender or disease. This is because some research projects need tissues from specific categories of people, or from those with the conditions they are researching. Every sample is given a unique identifiable number, so that the researcher cannot see where or who the sample came from.

This data is kept by the Biorepository on a secure database behind the NHS firewall at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH). Access to this database is highly restricted. The researchers cannot access this data or get any identifiable information. The researchers don’t need to access this data for their trials. The only time they might need to identify a sample is if they discover something of clinical significance in a particular sample. If this happens they can contact the Biorepository with the samples unique identifier, and the Biorepository team can access the database and alert the relevant clinical care team.

The majority of samples are kept in freezers. These are monitored 24 hours a day and any temperature fluctuations trigger an alarm. Diagnostic samples taken during surgery or biopsies are put in a preservative and then embedded in wax blocks. These are then thinly sliced so they can be examined under a microscope. This allows a diagnosis to be made on a tissue, but for some research projects this technique is too harsh. In this case the tissue can be quickly frozen in liquid nitrogen, which preserves the tissue structure and components for long term storage in our freezers.

We are also asked for fresh tissue, that hasn’t been fixed or frozen, and we can facilitate the consent of patients and the collection of tissue, delivering it straight to the lab bench. This opens up a wider range of potential uses for your sample, such as using it to provide a source of human-derived cells.

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