Biobanking and the next frontiers in medicine

Through its long-standing collaboration with the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), Linde Healthcare has been able to develop its QI® Cryo solution for the safe cryogenic storage of biological samples – and by extension help enable pioneering medical research.

Tiina Vesterinen, laboratory coordinator at FIMM and Minna Matrone, Project Manager, Cryo Preservation, Linde Gas, at the FIMM cryo storage.

By providing researchers with vast collections of different biological samples, biobanks are an increasingly vital part of modern medicine. The data and information that can be gained from such collections can help better understand a wide variety of diseases and medical conditions and be used to develop better treatments and diagnostic methods.

The Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) – a translational research institute that focuses on human genomics and precision medicine – established its first centralised sample storage unit at the University of Helsinki in 2009. Starting with a capacity of 335,000 samples, today FIMM has 16 liquid nitrogen based freezers and capacity for over one million samples.

“A lot has happened in the past decade, both locally at FIMM and nationally in the field of biobanking and sample storage,” explains Tiina Vesterinen, laboratory coordinator at FIMM. “The biggest change was in 2013, when the Finnish biobank act was implemented. The act provides the framework and principles for biobanking involving researchers utilizing biobank materials and sample donors. Since then, several biobanks have been established in Finland.”

Currently there are 11 biobanks in Finland, with FIMM providing biological sample storage to three of them. It also provides sample storage services for 20 research groups and private companies in the Helsinki area as well as researchers at FIMM. A wide variety of sample types are stored such as fresh tissues, cells, blood fractions and bodily fluids like saliva.

In addition to being laboratory coordinator at FIMM, Tiina Vesterinen is also involved in a research group at the Helsinki University Hospital’s pathology department, into rare cancers and neuroendocrine tumours. This involves extensive use tissue samples in Finnish biobanks.

“The aim of the study is to utilise nationwide tissue samples together with patients’ clinical data,” she explains. “We use RNA sequencing, immunohistochemistry and artificial intelligence to find new diagnostic, predictive or prognostic biomarkers. With these biomarkers, we aim to better diagnose patients and personalise their treatment, as well as better estimate their prognosis.”

Tiina Vesterinen handling biological samples from the biobank at FIMM.
Ileana Quintero, laboratory technician at FIMM.

Research such as this will become increasingly important as the Finnish population continues to age and more cancers appear. An aging population will also lead to an increase in cardiovascular diseases and different neurological disorders. Another vital area is Covid-19, with FIMM researchers involved in unravelling the genetic determinants of Covid-19 susceptibility, severity and outcome of patients.

A vital component of any biobank is its cold storage system, as the temperature of the samples must not exceed -130°C. From the beginning, instead of using traditional electronic deep freezers, FIMM elected to work with Linde’s liquid nitrogen and cryogenic technology.

“This is a much safer way of storing samples because you do not need to worry about losing electricity,” explains Tiina. “If you have an electric freezer and the power is cut off, the samples will melt within 12 hours, but in liquid nitrogen-based freezer, we can keep them frozen for two weeks after the last nitrogen refill.”

As an added safety margin, the solution provided by Linde provides temperatures as low as -190°C – a level not possible with electric freezers. There are also additional benefits compared to electricity including lower noise and energy consumption.

Over the course of its decade-long collaboration with FIMM, Linde has been able to develop and expand its offer into QI Cryo, a full turn-key solution for all cryogenic needs. This includes the design and installation of complete systems, as well as continued delivery of liquid nitrogen, training, technical support and advanced monitoring systems.

“The FIMM biobank is like my first baby and it has been a very rewarding journey to see us grow and reach this point now where we have around 150 such freezers,” says Minna Matrone, Project Manager, Cryo Preservation, Linde Gas. “This industry is so unique and we have learned so much through our partnership with FIMM. They do not even feel like a customer anymore, it’s become something deeper.”

QI Cryo - the Science of Cool

Linde’s QI Cryo service can provide complete cryogenic solutions for storing biological samples and materials, regardless of whether it’s for a hospital, research laboratory or biobank. It consists of a series of products and services including:

  • Delivery of liquid nitrogen
  • Design and installation of tank and pipelines
  • Cryogenic freezers (-80 ˚C to -196 ˚C) with automatic filling
  • Vessels for cryogenic storage
  • Advanced systems for continuous remote monitoring
  • Temperature and oxygen alarms
  • Personal safety equipment
  • Training
  • Technical support, service and maintenance