Fraunhofer BioArchiv – »high tech«-biobanking

More than 10 years of interdisciplinary research and technological development in cryobiotechnology at the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT have led to the leading international biobank network, both with regard to technology and content. This network is the “Fraunhofer-BioArchiv”. The implemented and commercially available biobank technology platform is based on more than 40 patent families of the Fraunhofer IBMT.

The Fraunhofer IBMT is a system provider for therapeutic and diagnostically focussed biobanks. It offers its partners from industry und research services for the development of new cryomedia, optimized freezing protocols, contract storage, as well as planning and validation of cryobanks. Our key expertise is the support of client-specific projects in the area of cryotechnology and guidance in establishing clients' cryobanks. Together with companies in the fields of substrate, equipment, and software, the Fraunhofer IBMT is currently the only system provider worldwide, that offers industrially scaled cryobanks for temperature ranges below -130° C.

We still benefit today in nearly all fields of science from the 19th century natural history museum records. The value of soundly established collections increases over the decades. This is proven by the pathological collections of clinics and DNA banks. It will most likely also be true for our time and future collections. So far, the focus of our records is on documents, increasingly on electronic media.

What about materials especially biological objects? There are numerous biobanks in clinics, institutes, and companies that store liquids, cells, tissue, and organs. They can be roughly divided into dead and living samples. Live samples, because thanks to low temperature conservation it is possible to reversibly freeze and thaw certain biological material. Without doubt, these biomaterial banks are the backbone of our future strongly biotechnology and recycling oriented society. These banks are a comprehensive record and a kind of back-up insurance.

The Fraunhofer IBMT's BioArchiv is one of the most modern and the best equipped cryobank in the world. The full automatic nitrogen supply, the multi-redundant monitoring system, an interruption-free power supply and emergency standby power system, full electronic personnel and access monitoring with alarm forwarding and video recording ensure the best possible security for the stored samples and guarantee their quality.

Due to technical demand, the Fraunhofer IBMT has been working on the development and industrial implementation of cryobank technology since 1999. After more than 10 years of development a cryotechnology platform is available in form of a system solution for the implementation of small, intermediate, and large scale banks. Their key elements are the connection between the already common plastic sample tubes and an electronic memory chip, RFID, etc. and the prevention of ice formation using hood systems.

The special difference of this commercially available hybrid is the electronic contact with each sample in the cryotank and its readability as well as describability of electronic memory at temperatures as low as minus 180°C. This makes completely new biobank and databank structures possible. The biobanks can perform computerized inventories, data synchronizations, and search for samples without the need to open the cryotanks. Newly developed hood systems over the tanks prevent ice formation and provide a refrigerated transition room during sample withdrawal and storage. There is less time pressure for processes that are performed and gapless refrigeration and temperature monitoring is ensured. The road to automated biobanks has been paved by a complete lab management system. The chip itself, attached to the sample tube, monitors its handling, transportation, and processing procedures such as data storage. At the same time it documents everything.   

In 2007 Fraunhofer-BioArchiv was expanded by an S3 laboratory with an integrated cryobank. This has made research with and storage of organisms classified as S3 according to the biomaterial ordinance and the genetic engineering law possible. The complete lab wing may be viewed as an inverse clean room. There is constant negative pressure while research projects registered with the appropriate authorities are being performed. This negative pressure in unison with numerous other measures such as the flush-mount sealing of all crevices and openings ensures that nothing – not even the smallest particle – can escape from the lab to the surrounding room. The rooms are ventilated using so called HEPA-filters (high efficiency particulate air filter). Waste from the laboratory is sterilized in a pass-through autoclave using high pressure and 120°C steam. The first large project that was done in these rooms was the integrated GHRC (Global HIV Vaccine Research Cryorepository) project supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates-Foundation.

Another biobank of the Fraunhofer EMB and the Fraunhofer IBMT is the CRYO-BREHM (“German cell bank for wild animals”). This is a biomaterial bank specifically for the collection and cryoconservation of prolifertive cell cultures of wild animals. In addition, there is a stem cell bank (hES, IPS, adult SC) as well as the pathology network CRIP (“Central Research Infrastructure for molecular Pathology”) a biodatabank that combines data from decentral biobanks that span different institutes. CRIP is a prototype for further biobanks e.g. the “Project-Portal in the German Biobank-Register (P2B2)”, which the Fraunhofer IBMT is establishing between 2010-2012 together with the TMF and 6 partner-biobanks. This will be the basis for a central German biobank-infrastructure.

Since January of 2012, the human sample collection of the Federal Environmental Biobank is also part of the Fraunhofer-BioArchiv. Together with the Fraunhofer IME (located in Schmallenberg), the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft manages the complete sample collection of the Federal Environmental Biobank. This biobank is a central element of the observation of the environment in Germany. For more than 30 years it has provided the Federal Ministry of Environment, Environmental Protection, and Reactor Safety (Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit (BMU)) with important scientific information to adopt and monitor the success of measures in environmental protection.

The environmental biobank is a permanent entity of the BMU and is under the aegis of the Federal Environmental Agency (UBA). Since January 2012, the task force "Federal Environmental Biobank – Human Samples" of the Fraunhofer-Institute for Biomedical Engineering has been collecting blood and urine samples for the Federal Environmental Biobank. Samples of 120 volunteers each at 4 locations in Germany (Münster, Halle, Ulm, Greifswald) are being collected for the UBA every year. Thus, the Fraunhofer IBMT receives 13200 individual samples per year that can be used to examine the effect of pollution on humans. Part of the samples are tested for clinical parameters (e.g. cholesterol content).

An initial characterization of the chemical burden is performed by the institute and the Clinic for Work, Social, and Environmental Medicine (IPASUM) of the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg. However, the majority of the collected samples each year will be stored in cryoconserved form by the Fraunhofer IBMT for later retrospective analyses of environmentally relevant chemicals and compounds. They will be stored in the environmental biobank indefinitely and will remain completely unaltered. The human samples of the Federal Environmental Biobank give an overview of the pollutant burden on man. The repeated testing of comparable populations on a regular basis allows the long-term monitoring of pollutant trends. These are of fundamental importance for the development of legal measures and to control the success of these measures. With the indefinite and unaltered cryoconservation of the, it is possible to perform tests retrospectively or to repeat tests with newer more sensitive methods. Thus, even after decades substances can be detected that were not known or analyzable at the time the samples were collected or that were not considered important.

In the summer of 2010 at the location in Sulzbach BioKryo Ltd. started its service of cryostorage of therapeutically valuable biological material e.g. stem cells or tissue samples. BioKryo Ltd. is a spin-off of the Fraunhofer-Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT. It contributes more than 10 years of experience in cryotechnology and stem cell research. It can now also offer the highly specialized low temperature storage (e.g. storage of important cell lines as a back-up) for clients from e.g. the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry. Aside from the storage of valuable biological material, BioKryo Ltd. together with other collaborating partners can perform diagnostic and logistic services such as HLA-typing or the worldwide transportation of samples.

Fraunhofer-BioArchiv offers external clients from research, clinics, and industry a service catalogue of cryostorage of biological samples.  

  • Consultation and support in defining and establishing own client-specific cryo/biobanks (planning, construction, support during construction and operation)
  • Project support during construction and operation
  • Back-up cryo-/biobank at Fraunhofer IBMT (back-up storage of sample collections)
  • Container care for collections
  • Test of technology and equipment systems
  • Development of cryoequipment and cryoautomation tools
  • Development of freezing and thawing protocols
  • Development of suitable cryoprotectives
  • Lab management system
  • Documentation and workflow
  • Electronic data management (“ChamaeleonLab”)