Automation of Biobanking Activities

Biobanks empower clinical research to improve our understanding of complex diseases. Towards this, a wide range of equipment is available for sample collection, preparation, analysis, storage, barcoding, transport, etc. 

Automated systems provide valuable knowledge, streamlined process steps, and enhanced quality. Automation also leads to “economies of scale” so that the biobank can manage growth without a significant increase in labor, materials, or equipment. 

There are automated storage solutions for every need and budget. Size-wise they can range from compact instruments fitting next to the laboratory bench to modular units in large rooms. 

Why Automate?

1. Standardization and Quality Assurance:

The way samples are processed and stored plays a critical role in their quality. E.g., temperature fluctuations compromise the sample’s quality. 

Three vital parameters in this respect are:

  1. The time between sample collection and its processing (e.g., a few minutes vs. hours)
  2. Type of sample processing
  3. Storage conditions

2. Scaling up:

Managing a large number of samples using manual freezers significantly increases the risk of errors and poor quality. Automation drastically decreases the probability of errors by standardizing each of the steps in the workflow. 

3. Efficiency:

Automation can eliminate many human handling steps, which are a significant source of errors. E.g., mislabeling, misplacing, losing a sample, etc.

An automated storage system can also be integrated with sample preparation steps, such as DNA extraction, for further streamlining.

Hamilton BiOS and Univ of Maryland (UMM) Biorepository:

Hamilton BiOS is an automated storage system designed to store sensitive biological samples at -80°C. The UMM Biorepository uses BiOS for the automated storage and retrieval of specimens. UMM biorepository extracts and stores serum, plasma, and also DNA from the blood for genomic studies.

BiOS uses cutting-edge technology to improve research efficiency, like:

  1. Magnetic bead technology to move DNA from place to place and undergoes six wash steps
  2. Retrieves purer DNA sample
  3. A dual refrigeration and backup system stores samples at ultra-low temperatures
  4. Sample retrieving is done by robots quickly and accurately. More importantly, without exposing the rest of the specimens to room temperature.

OpenSpecimen usage at UMM

UMM Biorepository is using OpenSpecimen since 2017 as their Biobanking LIMS. OpenSpecimen is integrated with Hamilton BiOS using REST APIs. Refer to this blog post for more details.

Automated Freezer Vendors

  1. Hamilton BiOS
  2. Brooks Automation BioStore II Automated Sample Management & Storage System
  3. ALS Freezers: Smartfreezer® Series
  4. Celltrio, Inc.: Celltrio RoboStor
  5. TTP Labtech Arktic



Written by: Divya Prabhu, Member of Domain Staff, Krishagni

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