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High Quality and Maximum Automation

TMF biobanking working group visits KI Biobank in Stockholm

November 2, 2011. About 1.5 million samples are stored in the biobank at Karolinska Institute (KI) in Stockholm, which is currently being used as the basis for around 70 studies. During their visit to the biobank on October 26, 2010, members of the TMF biobanking working group were able to gain an impression of the high quality and level of automation for the processes of sample sorting, processing and storage. The next objectives for enhancing the KI Biobank are the automation of sample transmittal, development of a national network and participation of further studies. The Swedish and German researchers plan to continue the exchange.

The KI Biobank is a leader in northern Europe and it represents the Swedish node for the European biobanking infrastructure BBMRI. coordinator Jan-Eric Litton, who welcomed the guests from Germany, was pleased about the development of biobanking infrastructures in recent years. He said it had now been accepted that biobanking was a science in its own right but that many research issues had still not been clarified. He added that among researchers as well the level of acceptance of central infrastructures was continuing to increase.


Karolinska Institutet is a medical university with 22 research institutes and more than 300 professors.  

Biobank registries: similar approaches in Sweden and Germany

The members of the TMF working group were also particularly interested in the Swedish biobank registry, to which the laboratory information systems of the hospitals throughout the country are being successively connected and which is thus taking a similar approach to that of the German Biobank Registry with an integrated sample procurement portal. In the Swedish biobank registry nearly 900 biobanks are already registered, including numerous relatively small collections run by individual researchers. Jan-Eric Litton emphasized that this was important because even small collections can be highly valuable, especially in the field of rare diseases.

The operators of the KI Biobank are also pressing ahead with the development of a national biobank network, for which local nodes are being successively established at the medical faculties of Swedish universities. Furthermore, a network of national biobanking infrastructures is also being established at present: BBMRI Nordic.




The KI Biobank is currently working amongst others on the automation of sample transfer.

Building confidence and providing support for sample usage are key tasks

Mark Divers, manager of the KI Biobank, emphasized that building confidence was one of the key tasks to be addressed if researchers were to be persuaded to make their samples available to a central infrastructure. He said that in addition it was necessary to explain what the value of biobanking is – for science and for patients – in order to be able to establish central infrastructures in the long term.

He added that the subject of biobanks was hot but nevertheless, as a researcher one should keep cool, so as to continue improving the quality of processes both in sampling and in processing, storage and transmittal. In particular, the KI Biobank was currently working on the automation of sample transmittal in order to support usage of the valuable materials. The aim, according to Mark Divers, was to make the requesting of samples for researchers just as convenient as withdrawing cash at a cash dispenser.



The samples are stored at -81°C. Gynnel Tybring granted a glimpse into one of the refrigerators, which can accommodate up to 170,000 samples.


Many processes are automated

The samples that arrive at the KI Biobank from study centers already bear a barcode label. Sorting is automated, as is measurement of the respective volume for appropriate aliquotation. DNA extraction is also automated, which ensures that the quality of the extracted DNA remains consistent.

Sample storage takes place at a temperature of -81°C. For taking individual samples the sample racks are briefly subjected to an ambient temperature of -20°C – the equipment  for sampling at a temperature of -81°C would be 10 times more expensive and, at a cost of 5 million euros, unaffordable. According to biobank expert Gunnel Tybring, no scientific evidence has so far been produced to establish whether such a brief change in temperature has an influence on the results of analyses that are common nowadays.


Seamless documentation for all samples

From arrival at the KI Biobank a complete record is kept of each sample so that it is possible, for example, to find out at any time how long the sample was processed or stored at what temperature. For each refrigerator also – with a capacity of up to 170,000 samples – there is a record of the respective temperature and any fluctuations. If a refrigerator is full, it is transferred from the laboratory to a storage room. This takes less than ten minutes.

The operators of the KI Biobank also take a pragmatic approach when it comes to security systems: one refrigerator in ten is empty so if a system should fail, the samples can be directly transferred to a waiting cabinet. As Gunnel Tybring explained, however, the long service life of the refrigerators can be supported very efficiently even with simple maintenance and care procedures. In addition, security is also provided by separate standby generators and separate electrical systems. Mark Divers reported that at the moment they were considering taking further precautions for risk management, in light of the fact that valuable samples were lost due to flooding in Denmark last summer.


  The German and Swedish researchers met for informal talks with a dinner on the outskirts of Stockholm's Old Town on the eve of the visit of the biobank.

Exchange of professional information and consultation on the development of national biobanking infrastructures

The TMF biobanking working group regularly pays visits to biobanks throughout Germany and in other countries. Over the last two years the researchers have already visited the biobank at the Medical University of Graz, the Estonian Genome Center at the University of Tartu and the Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg (IBBL), among others. Especially the personal exchange of professional information with local researchers is very much appreciated by the members of the working group and it helps to eliminate communication barriers.

Among its topics the working group consults on the development of the German Biobank Register and a biobank cooperation structure in Germany.

  1. KI Biobank
  2. BBMRI Schweden
  3. Swedish Biobank Registry
  4. TMF Biobanking Working Group
  5. German Biobanking Registry Coordinator Jan-Eric Litton welcomed the guests and introduced to the Biobank infrastructure activities in Sweden and the Nordic countries.   Mark Divers, Director of the KI Biobank, stressed the importance of quality and confidence for the successful establishment and operation of centralized biobank infrastructures.

Sebastian C. Semler, chief scientific officer of the TMF, presented the biobanking working group.   The activities for building national biobank registries in Germany and Sweden are comparable. Roman Siddiqui (TMF) reported that the German Biobank Registry will be launched in a few weeks.

At the KI Biobank the main steps are automated. Here, the samples are aliquoted.



This robot provides the sample holder with an aluminum lid.


The automated DNA extraction ensures a consistent quality of the DNA.


The personal and professional exchange and discussion of technical details is extremely interesting  and helpful for the members of the biobanking working group.


Group portrait with Alfred Nobel - Participants of the visit at the KI Biobank on 26 October 2011 (f.l.t.r.): Thomas Pickardt (Kompetenznetz Angeborene Herzfehler), Roman Siddiqui (TMF), Heike Kaasch (Projektträger Gesundheitsforschung im DLR), Antje Schütt (TMF), working group spokesman Michael Hummel (ZeBanC), Daniela Skrowny (Universitätsmedizin Göttingen), Karoline Gaede (Forschungsverbund Suzeptibilität: Tuberkulose), Alexandra Stege (ZeBanC), Klaus Pommerening (Kompetenznetz Pädiatrische Onkologie und Hämatologie), Michael Neumann (IBDW), Jürgen W. Goebel (RAe Goebel & Scheller), at the front: Michael Kiehntopf (IFB Sepsis Jena), at the back: Jörg Jäkel (RWTH Biobank), Sebastian C. Semler (TMF). Missing on the picture: Andreas Beck (Kompetenznetz Adipositas), Klaus Henning (Forschungsverbund Q-Fieber), Anita Posevitz-Fejfar (Kompetenznetz Multiple Sklerose), Hans-W. Rock ( Kompetenznetz TDM-KJP e.V.), Andreas Rüther (popgen 2.0-Netzwerk), Cornelia Scheel (TMF) sowie Christina Schröder (Fraunhofer IBMT).

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