How the University of Cyprus Transformed its Biobank into a World-class Operation

The creation of a new Center of Excellence for Modern Biobanking and Biomedical Research ( at the University of Cyprus (UCY) in October 2019 marked a new era in front-line research on genetic diseases and molecular medicine in Cyprus. One of the five pillars of the is the first biobank in Cyprus, with a catchy logo:

We invest in Biobanking, we invest in a healthier Cyprus.

Significant external funding of the effort attested to not only the university’s commitment to enhancing Cypriot’s well-being but also to its desire to aid in resolving medical challenges that plague the world. But had an obstacle blocking its path to biobanking success.

The’s Challenge

In keeping with its emerging international recognition as a leading research institution, UCY understood that its decade-old, disjointed biobanking database couldn’t handle the biobank’s ambitious vision. Knowing that resolving the problem would be a daunting task.

The biobank of the Center of Excellence at UCY, had three primary areas of concern:

Data Management – at-risk quality and integrity of specimen metadata
Incorrect or insufficient biospecimen data could invalidate results and waste research time and money. It also puts hard-won trust in the research institution at risk. UCY’s 10+ years of research data was collected and housed using a varied mix of procedures and repositories, including an in-house database, physical forms, Microsoft Excel® spreadsheets, and REDCap data capture tool for participant data. It included data for 6,500+ participants, 9,100+ visits, and 90,000+ samples. This volume and the significant manual data entry meant a huge potential for error, not to mention the waste of valuable human resources. The array of repositories also made it difficult to query desired specimens and validate or audit data.
Labeling, Barcoding, and Printing – a labor-intensive manual effort
Precise specimen labeling and barcoding are critical for the accurate tracking of specimens. Mislabeled specimens could skew research results. Manually creating and printing labels was an error-prone, time-consuming, and mind-numbing process for the talented UCY biobank staff. It was also inefficient for tracking specimens based on labels.
Reporting – inadequate querying capabilities
The’s intent to provide specimens for innovative research efforts required a robust reporting tool that is reliable and flexible enough to allow for customized search criteria that vary by project. Generating reports to identify and locate specimens of interest and audit information was difficult with the biobank data scattered across multiple platforms. This led to both underutilization of the biospecimens and wasted human resources.

The Journey to a Biobanking LIMS Solution

Prof. Constantinos Deltas, Director of the, discussed the issue of the implementation of the BIMS with his expert colleagues, including Dr. Apostolos Malatras, IT Manager and Senior Bioinformatician, UCY, and Dr. Heimo Muller, Medical University of Graz, collaborating partner.

Armed with key requirements and an enormous amount of data, embarked on a global 5-month evaluation process to identify a biobanking LIMS that would meet their needs. The team invited proposals via a public tender process and participated in numerous product demonstrations.

After an extensive evaluation process, the biobank team decided to implement OpenSpecimen, a versatile, tested management system made to serve biobanks, that would save time and effort while offering safety and confidence in avoiding human errors.

OpenSpecimen’s liberal licensing model, scalability, and pricing easily helped it make’s shortlist. And a personalized, hands-on demo on its free demo server along with a very responsive OpenSpecimen team sealed the deal.

How OpenSpecimen Met the Challenge

The brought OpenSpecimen in-house in May 2020. The implementation of the system was complex and was undertaken and coordinated by Dr. Nantia Iakovidou at the She was assisted by people at the biobank, including Dr. Apostolos Malatras, IT Manager and Senior Bioinformatician, Maria Kyratzi, Biobank Manager, Stella Antoniou, Quality Manager, and Dr. Gregory Papagreoriou, Group Lead/Senior Scientist.  The input of the end users, including the team of research nurses and the biobank biotechnologists team, as well as senior and junior research scientists, was instrumental in designing and operating the OpenSpecimen to satisfy the current and future needs of the biobank with its wealth of data and information.
The implementation process included:
  • Migration of volumes of scattered legacy data, much of it free text and manually captured data ripe with human error: The data was not only gathered and integrated from multiple input sources but it was also scrubbed to eliminate incorrect information.
  • Custom system requirements to meet differing research project needs: Screens were either reconfigured or newly built to remove unnecessary fields or add custom fields, e.g., unique Participant ID across studies.
  • Training for a variety of users on a completely new system and workflow: Separate online training sessions were conducted for the different user roles. An online train-the-trainer approach for data entry and reporting sessions helped ensure that expert end users were available internally to provide ongoing operational support. Additional training on all aspects of system administration was provided for the project manager. The training was presented in a test environment configured to match’s custom production system, including legacy data, to ease users into the new process.

OpenSpecimen not only met UCY’s biobanking LIMS requirements, but it also exceeded them.

Integrated, Quality-controlled Data Management
OpenSpecimen was able to integrate’s various data sources into a single, organized, easy-to-manage repository. This included directly pulling data from REDCap, eliminating the need for error-prone manual data entry. In addition, data collection forms can be built and customized from within OpenSpecimen and linked to various levels, such as participants, visits, or specimens. Data validation and audit capabilities are inherent in these automated forms.
Automated Accurate Labeling, Barcoding, and Printing
Unique, traceable labels and barcodes for each specimen are now systematically generated by OpenSpecimen and automatically printed through integration with printing software. This eliminates the manual, labor-intensive effort and reduces the risk of errors, as well as facilitates specimen tracking.
Robust, Flexible Reporting and Auditing Capabilities
Queries can be created for all tracked data, including data pulled from REDCap, with easy-to-use, highly customizable data selection fields to accommodate just about any project reporting requirement. And the reporting dashboard is comprehensive, yet intuitive to use. OpenSpecimen enabled the creation of a custom reports and dashboards showing the full life cycle of every specimen. This allowed for complete traceability from start to finish of every sample and its related metadata.

In addition to effectively meeting CY-Biobank’s key requirements, OpenSpecimen offered a number of bonus benefits, including – 

Flexible Freezer Management

The biobank uses numerous freezers of different dimensions. OpenSpecimen does not impose a hierarchy or container dimensions, so biobank staff can create freezer records to match their local needs, and better manage storage by restricting freezers by specimen type or study.

Full-cycle Shipment Tracking
By implementing the OpenSpecimen Shipment module, the biobank is able to track the shipment of specimens from the collection site to the central repository. Biobank staff can capture transport details such as date and time, temperature, and special instructions separately for every shipment.
Rigorous Security and Backup
To ensure the security of the biobanking data, OpenSpecimen is deployed within UCY’s private VPN and all data is accessed through encrypted channels using proprietary configured password complexity. Daily system backups occur automatically and produce detailed log files.

“OpenSpecimen is now live, serving the demands of It helps to perform data management effectively and audit every action in the system. All this while simultaneously minimizing time costs and preventing human errors. OpenSpecimen contributed significantly in building a robust world-class biobank.”
~ Dr. Nantia Iakovidou, BIMS and Electronic Data Capture Operation Officer

Can OpenSpecimen Help with Your Biobanking Vision?

Whether your biobanking database exists to address the unique biomedical research challenges of your local demographic or is part of a bigger mission to contribute to the knowledge base of the world, the highly configurable OpenSpecimen biobanking management system can help.

Discover for yourself how it facilitates complete lifecycle tracking of your biospecimen inventory and adapts to virtually any research study need. And it plays well with other systems you may already have in place, such as REDCap, Epic, Cerner, or Hamilton BiOS, among others.

Request your own free personalized, no-obligation demo on the OpenSpecimen website.

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