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UK biobank boosts COVID-19 sample availability

The UK’s leading supplier of human tissue samples is joining forces with a Cambridge Biobank to provide COVID-19 samples for scientists.

The only UK-owned virtual biobank, Tissue Solutions, is working with Cambridge Blood and Stem Cell Biobank (CBSB) at the University of Cambridge to increase the turnaround time and usefulness of every COVID-19 sample donated.

Samples are being distributed to researchers racing to increase understanding of the virus for the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines.

Tissue Solutions and CBSB will work in tandem to complete sample orders within 24 hours and ensure that there is no waste of the limited supply of COVID-19 samples.

Thanks to the new partnership, a test tube of blood (the equivalent of one patient sample) can be divided into multiple plasma or serum samples before being sent on to several researchers.

Tissue Solutions is sourcing fresh blood samples on demand through its well-established network of collection sites. The company’s shipping and logistics team quickly arranges the delivery of the samples to CBSB, which then uses its laboratory facilities to separate the highly infectious blood sample into its component parts. These blood fractions are more useful to scientists in labs, due to their increased stability. This lets them observe, more accurately, how different sample types behave in their investigations to increase the reliability of their study.

Morag McFarlane, CEO at Tissue Solutions, said: “We have responded quickly to the unique set of challenges brought about by this global pandemic. The scientific community urgently needs COVID-19 samples and we have adapted accordingly.

“The life sciences sector is undoubtably working more effectively together, which is helping us to achieve faster results. The demand for human tissue samples remains urgent across the UK and internationally.”

Tissue Solutions now provides the following COVID-19 samples: fresh whole blood, cryopreserved (frozen) plasma, serum, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and ribonucleic acid (RNA) extracted from diagnostic remnants, e.g. nasal and throat swabs and other diagnostic remnants.

Dr Joanna Baxter, CBSB’s lead scientist and biobank manager, said: “Our ethos is to make the most of each donation by processing different products from each sample, recognising the wishes of the participants to enable as much research as possible.”

The scientists in Cambridge process the whole blood samples into plasma, serum and PBMCs on the same day that the samples are collected, ensuring they are preserved to maintain their viability and are of the highest quality when shipped to researchers.

Thanks to its virtual capabilities, Tissue Solutions is also utilising its biobank contacts globally, to both source and supply samples internationally to benefit the wider scientific community.

Sourcing globally means that Tissue Solutions can provide samples from a diverse population of donors, which may be important given that some ethnicities seem more vulnerable and have a higher mortality rate.

Tissue Solutions does not earn any profit from its provision of COVID-19 samples – the company has joined the fight against coronavirus as it recognised that its expertise in tissue procurement would be of great value at this time.

Tissue Solutions and CBSB are working together through Cambridge Enterprise – the commercialisation office of the University of Cambridge. Tissue Solutions and CBSB joined forces following the Tissue Directory and Coordination Centre’s call for biobanks to record their capabilities online to make it easier to identify opportunities for collaboration.

CBSB is part of the Department of Haematology in the School of Clinical Medicine at the University of Cambridge.

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