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What Are Biobanks?

A biobank is a special lab that stores samples donated by patients. The lab can be in a hospital, a university, or part of another organization. The samples can be:

Scientists use the samples to study what causes a sickness or disease and to find new cures. This is one way to help health care get better for future generations.

How Do Samples Get Into a Biobank?

Samples of blood, urine, stool, saliva, or tissue can be left over after lab tests and surgeries, or when patients consent to donate another sample. Patients (or parents, if the patient is a child) offer to add their samples to the bank. Sometimes family members can add their samples too.

Names and other information that would link a sample to its donor are removed and the sample gets a special number. Some basic health facts stay with the samples, but the scientists won't know who each sample belongs to. Extra needle sticks usually aren't needed to get samples for a biobank.

How Are the Samples Used?

When they want to use the samples for research, scientists ask permission from a special group whose job it is to protect patients' rights during research. If approved, the scientists can use the samples from the biobank to do their research.

Will Using a Biobank Affect My Child's Care?

Using a biobank is unlikely to affect your child's care. Doing health research takes a long time, so most often what is learned from a sample helps future patients.

Are There Risks to Donating?

The most common risk is the possible leak of private information. But this is rare because all private information is removed, with only the special number stored. Biobanks take great care to protect the identity and private information of their donors.

Is There a Fee to Store the Samples?

No. Storing in most biobanks is free for the donor.

How Long Are Samples Stored?

Biobanks store samples for an unlimited time.

Can I Remove My Sample From the Biobank?

You can stop storing a sample at any time and have it removed from the biobank. If a sample was used in a research study, the results can't be removed.

How Do I Get Started?

If you'd like to donate your or your child's samples, talk to your health care team. To donate, you'll give permission for samples to be taken and stored. It can help to discuss donating to a biobank before a health test or procedure. But even afterward, there might be extra material left over that you can donate.

Storing samples in a biobank is a way to aid health science so future generations can be healthier. Talk to your health care team about whether donating to a biobank is right for your family.

Reviewed by: Diana A. Corao, MD
Date Reviewed: Feb 1, 2020

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