Cold winds and hot research in Luxembourg

 ECCL building Luxjpg

Biospecimen research itself is an under-appreciated area, and yet the quality of the underlying samples is key to any science that relies on them. ISBER organized a two-day symposium in Luxembourg that concentrated on just this topic. This is a short summary to give you an idea of the event. As always, this is just an opinion and comments are welcome below.

There were 220 attendees officially, with about 130 scientists from the biobanking community, so this was a lot quieter than a regular biobanking conference. The venue itself was just right for the event, with the posters and exhibition tables right outside the seminar room. As an added bonus the conference food was very good too!

The first morning consisted of an on-site visit to the Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg (IBBL) This is a very impressive facility, and one of the leading biobanks in Europe. There were several members of IBBL involved in the symposium. In particular, Fay Betsou from IBBL was the Symposium Program Committee Chair and she has a particular interest in the area of biospecimen research.

After delegates returned from the site visit, the presentations started in earnest. The afternoon session on the first day concentrated on Human Fluid Specimens. There were talks on a wide range of topics, with plasma and serum being the main fluids discussed. A key theme was the importance of adherence to quality control standards to ensure accurate, reproducible and clinically relevant results. Speakers from the US, Austria and Germany presented on the use of Flow Cytometry to detect extracellular vesicules, peptidic and metabolomic quality markers and standards for the clinical use of liquid biopsies. The session finished with a debate on standards which was timely given the ISO biobanking standard in development, as well as the 4th edition of ISBER’s Best Practices which has just been released.

At the end of the first day there was a Poster Reception with drinks and nibbles. The Gala Dinner was also on that night at the exhibition center. Unfortunately, we didn’t attend the Dinner so can’t comment on what science was discussed at the tables!

The second day started with a morning session on Environmental Biospecimens. Very often these presentations on animal, plant or historic collections can provide an interesting perspective on biobanking. Without the focus on human ethics and biopharmaceutical medical advances, other nuances of biobanking come to the fore. There were informative talks on topics ranging from sequencing ancient DNA (human and animal) through to building out an infrastructure to share plant samples and data globally.

The rest of the attendees involved in human biobanking started filtering in throughout the morning. Then, after lunch, the final session on Human Tissue Biospecimens started. Again the subjects of the presentations was varied well. The first half of the session concentrated on research based on FFPE: measuring RNA quality using an electrophoretogram, protein analysis to determine proteomic research suitability and enrichment and amplification techniques for NGS.

We couldn’t attend the second half of the final session as it was exhibition tear down and then straight to the airport to find our flight was cancelled due to Storm Emma. How we got home four days later is a story for another day…