What is a biobank?

A “biobank” collection of human biological samples (such as blood, urine, tumor, or even whole organs) and associated data, stored in an organised system, that are stored for use in future research projects.

Research can be used to improve our understanding of health and disease, and to design new treatments or tests.

They may also be referred to as a “Biorepository”, “Bioresource”, or “Research Tissue Bank”.

There are a large number of Biobanks held across the United Kingdom, which may be accessed for use in research.

What types of samples are stored in biobanks?

A wide range of materials may be held in biobanks, including:

  • Whole organs e.g. brain, liver, kidney
  • Processed material e.g. material derived from human biological samples, such as plasma, DNA
  • Bodily waste e.g. faeces, urine, saliva

Material may be obtained from specific disease areas, or from healthy donors.  Biobanks also store clinical data related to the samples to aid the understanding of disease.

How are biobanks regulated?

The storage of human tissue for use in future research is regulated under the Human Tissue Act (2004).  Newcastle University and Newcastle Hospitals each hold a research sector Human Tissue Authority licence to facilitate the storage of material on its premises.  Each licence is overseen by a named Designated Individual (DI) who is responsible for the organisations compliance with the terms of the licence.

Designated Individuals

Research using human tissues must be conducted ensuring appropriate consent and ethical approval is in place to do so, and data stored in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). In Newcastle University and Newcastle Hospitals, compliance with these regulations is assessed by the Newcastle Joint Research Office Quality Management Team.

How do I find samples for use in my projects?

In the United Kingdom, the UKCRC Tissue Directory has been established as a catalogue, to help researchers find tissue held within UK Universities, hospitals, and charities.

You can search over 200 UK human sample resources (tissue banks, biorepositories, biobanks, cohort studies, research tissue banks, etc.), to find relevant samples and data. Using a specific disease term or searching ‘fit and well’ will enable you to find existing tissue samples or organisations that can collect bespoke collections. An A-Z of human sample resources is also available. The Directory is free to use, with discussions about sample access taking place directly with individual biobanks. Find out more or email contact@biobankinguk.org or via their Vision for Human Tissue Resources

What biobank samples are available in Newcastle?

Several large biobanks are situated in Newcastle as part of Newcastle University or Newcastle Hospitals. These are registered on the UKCRC Tissue Directory.

A list of the collections can also be found at the following link: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/biobanks/collections.  Each collection owner should be contacted directly to determine the samples available and the access policy.

I’ve found samples – what next?

Researchers should contact the biobank directly to request access, providing details of the intended research and required sample numbers/details. The biobank’s Access Committee will then review the request, based on the scientific merit of the proposed research project, sample availability and any other factors (e.g. conflicting requests).

Once approved, researchers must gain appropriate research ethics committee (REC) approval to use the samples, ensuring appropriate and valid consent is in place for the intended purpose. Some biobanks may be able to provide researchers with the appropriate ethical approval to use the samples.  This will be communicated as part of the access request.

What do I do if I want to store tissues in Newcastle?

Researchers wishing to store human tissue for use in future research purposes may only do so in approved storage locations and following discussion with the appropriate Designated Individual.

Newcastle University also offers a range of storage and processing services as part of the Central Biobank.  Requests should be directed to biobank@ncl.ac.uk.  Please see the Central Biobank website for further information.

What tissue processing services are available?

A range of tissue processing services are available through Newcastle Central Biobank and Newcastle Laboratories. 

For further information, please refer to: