Bio-banking is a novel concept on the African continent and South Africa is the first country to introduce it.
‘Bio-banking is being able to maintain the retention of samples into the future. Sometimes you don’t know how long you’re going to need the samples for. You might need them in two years’ time, six months’ time, and sometimes, up to 5, 10 or 15 years’ times when a test may come up that you can use the sample for. And bio-banking is being able to ensure that the integrity of the samples is kept so that when you do run the test, you’re able to get sense out of the result’, explained Dr Jessica Trusler, Medical Director of Bio-analytical Research Corporation (BRAC) South Africa.
Situated down the road from the Johannesburg Country Club in Auckland Park, the facility is state-of-the-art technology that requires extremely cold temperatures for it to function. It’s designed to store more than two million clinical trial samples in -80 degree Celsius freezer storage and liquid nitrogen.
‘Depending on the type of samples, samples can be kept at -80 degree Celsius for 5 ‘ 10 years if they are plasma or serum. But if they are cells, they actually need to be kept in liquid nitrogen and that almost keeps them hovering alive for future use and that’s below -150 down to -196 degree Centigrade’, Dr Trusler said.
These very cold storage conditions need to be maintained at all times to ensure that the samples retain their quality for research purposes.
‘Our normal deep freeze in your kitchen goes down to -20 degrees if you’ve got a chest deep freeze. The bottom of your fridge doesn’t normally go below about to -10. So, here we’re talking -70, -80 and then the liquid nitrogen goes down to -196. It’s so cold that you can’t imagine it. If you put a banana in liquid nitrogen it would freeze within two seconds and it would crack open’ she said.
‘We really do have first-class facilities. We will ensure that every sample counts and that going forward we will be able to maintain the cold chain at all points so that if that sample is the one that will find a cure for AIDS, for TB, for whatever disease there is in the future, the sample will be able to be kept in South Africa’¦ here’¦ for our people’, she continued.
‘The ability to store samples long term, including the RNA and DNA of these infectious pathogens means that we can do things like look at resistance patterns to drugs, we can use the DNA in the future for vaccine development, we can store TB DNA looking at resistance patterns against the various drugs and the role of what we call MOTTS, the non-tuberculous organisms in the immuno-compromised patients. So, there’s a lot of unique stuff that we can do here’, added Dr Peter Cole, Chief Executive Officer of Bio-analytical Research Corporation South Africa.