Global HIV Vaccine Research Cryorepository (GHRC)

Fraunhofer Group for Life Sciences

View of the cryobank of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the development of vaccines against AIDS as part of the Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery (CAVD).
© Fraunhofer IBMT, photo: Bernd Müller

Global HIV Vaccine Research Cryorepository (GHRC)

At the Fraunhofer IBMT a trend-setting platform is available to collect, process, conserve, and distribute reagents and clinical samples for worldwide networks using optimal sample processing procedures and cryoconservation. A global S3 HIV-cryobank was established at the Fraunhofer IBMT. This was part of the global initiative on the development of an HIV-vaccine (Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery – CAVD) which was financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates-Foundation.

In this unique bank for viruses and other microorganism, diverse reagents for vaccine research and development are available. They may be used for comprehensive molecular biological and immunological characterization. The HIV cryobank is monitored by a certified quality assurance program which controls the processes according to the guideline of Good Clinical Laboratory Practice (GCLP). An additional development is the automated production of special agents (e.g. HIV-1 Env- pseudovirus strains).

These materials are used for further development and testing of vaccines against HIV and are prepared and tested under GCLP.

In June 2004 at the world economic summit in Sea Island (Georgia, USA), the G8-States called for a global initiative to develop a vaccine against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) the pathogen that causes the immunodeficiency disease AIDS. One of these global initiatives for the development of HIV vaccines is the Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery (CAVD). Its goals include establishing coordinated global development centers (including the Fraunhofer IBMT consortium) for an HIV vaccine. These activities are funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates-Foundation.

The Bill & Melinda Gates-Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world. It supports programs to fight infectious diseases especially tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria. Projects that are selected are especially practical and have global medical benefits especially for third world countries.

This global activity is an important component of the HIV vaccine development. In this program the international consortium coordinated by the Fraunhofer-Institute for Biomedical Engineering (IBMT) was commissioned to develop and install one of the most modern global HIV cryobanks (Global HIV Vaccine Research Cryobank – GHRC).

The project is based on many years of preparatory work - on the one hand, the work of the HIV network coordinated by the WHO-UNAIDS and on the other hand on developments of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft in the field of cryotechnology. Partners in the project are renowned organizations from Europe and the US: the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) in London, the San Raffaele Scientific Institute (DIBIT) in Milan, the University of Lund, the University of the Saarland, and regional laboratories in emerging nations (e.g. Stellenbosch University in Kapstadt, South Africa).

For the 3 year project, the consortium had a budget of a little more than 9 million dollars. 7.5 million US$ were from the Gates-Foundation and the rest from German cofinancing (about 1.2 million US$ from the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and 600.000 US$ from the Department of Commerce of the Saarland). The project is currently in its second renewal phase and is being supported with 6.5 million US$ in both extension periods by the already mentioned contributors.

In 2006 an international consortium coordinated by the Fraunhofer-Institute for Biomedical Engineering (IBMT) received the first project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As part of the Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery – CAVD, the project will establish exemplarily an HIV biobank for the vaccine development against AIDS.

The project is based on many years of preparatory work. On the one hand, the work of the HIV network coordinated by the WHO-UNAIDS and on the other hand on developments of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft in the field of cryotechnology. The HI-virus remains an unsolved problem. There is still no vaccine despite decades of research. This is partly due to the pronounced ability of these viruses to adapt. Their mutability has led to the spread of numerous virus variants worldwide and to their proliferation in cells of the immune system of infected persons. An essential tool for the research and vaccine development is, therefore, virus banks. These virus collections are becoming more valuable and extensive. They are currently decentrally distributed and technically insufficiently standardized. The attempt of the international consortium is to quickly plan and establish a central HIV bank in the form of an exemplary, modern cryobank. In this HIV bank viruses and cells of the immune system as well as derivational reagents will be perfectly conserved at temperatures of liquid nitrogen. They can be retrieved at any time.  

Characteristic for the Fraunhofer technology platform is for example that biological samples can be deposited in tiny closed substrates which allow the retrieval of part of the individual samples at very low temperatures. The advantage of these methods that were developed as part of the microsystem technology and nanobiotechnology projects of the BMBF is that the remaining valuable samples remain in cold and safe storage. Another component of the chain of cryobank developments is the electronic memory chip which is suitable for very low temperatures and is fixed to the sample. It can be read and labeled even at -180 °C. This frozen cryoworld is comparable to temperatures as they occur on Neptune. This is an invention that was not just important for cryobanks, but also for travel into outer space. The cryotanks contain the information of the central databank on each sample without error. Thus, portions of the central databank exist decentralized. A wrongly deposited sample would for example be identified and corrected through the continuous communication of the central databank with the frozen chips in 2 m high cryotanks. This technology sets standards not only for HIV collection. At the same time it is a key element in the emerging cell banking of stem cells and their use in regenerative medicine.

However, aside from establishing a unique virus bank, the storage of various reagents that are necessary for vaccine research is important. They will be available for the comprehensive virological and immunological characterization and will form the basis for developing further vaccines as well as therapies. The samples and the important primary biological data that is gained from them for biocomputer science can be accessed by scientist throughout the world.

The first S3 cryobank worldwide, an HIV-cryorepository, was officially brought into service at the Fraunhofer IBMT at the Sulzbach location, following a 2-step positive evaluation by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on September 14, 2007. Thus, the IBMT accommodates perhaps the most modern biobank in the world with electronic sample identification, chips fit for very low temperatures on every sample tube, and a high level of automation. In July 2009 the pilot-phase of this project was successfully completed in all points under the coordination of the Fraunhofer IBMT in close cooperation with 11 international partners. In 2009 the biobank and the associated laboratories were certified according to the European as well as the American GCLP-guidelines (Good Clinical Laboratory Practice).

Immediately after the project was completed the IBMT received an award of a second project. It will promote the expansion and international networking of the research bank on the one hand and develop urgently needed laboratory robots that will speed up vaccine development on the other hand. The expansion of the IBMT biobank technology can be used in many clinical and biotechnological applications. This project is also coordinated by Fraunhofer IBMT in close cooperation with the Medical Faculty of the University of the Saarland, the World Health Organization (WHO, Geneva), the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC, Great Britain), the University in Lund (Sweden), the San Raffaele Scientific Institute (DIBIT, Italy), the Instituto de Biologia Experimental e Tecnológica (IBET, Portugal), and the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF, Spain), as well as a network of medical organizations in third world countries.

HIV Specimen Cyrorepository

  • Design and implementation of fully integrated, automated biobanks
  • Design of biobanks for infectious materials up to biosafety level
  • (BSL)-3Concepts and innovative hardware and software components in cryoprocessing and cryoequipment (smart cryovials, freezing/thawing as well as storage systems, lab & data management systems, development of mobile labs up to BSL-3)
  • Central backup-storage and sample management
  • Support services for clinical vaccine studies
  • Provision of cryomedia and protocols for controlled sample conservation

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