What you should know about cryogenic labs

Osmosis Team
Published on Dec 13, 2015. Updated on Invalid date.

Today, one of the most common types of laboratories is the cryogenic storage lab. These facilities are used for biobanking, storage of biological samples, and other applications involving long-term storage and preservation of human tissue. The ability to manage such materials has led to some important changes in health care.

The first critical service provided by these labs is their contribution to the accuracy of testing results. We have developed ever-more detailed and sensitive testing processes that can detect a wide array of diseases and conditions, but they are only as accurate as the samples used to conduct them. Tainted tissue or cells of any kind can not only cause delays for repeat testing, they can also lead to inaccurate test results that lead to errant treatments.

With a growing number of labs, as well as the high quality of shipping companies to transport these materials, lab facilities are available in close proximity to any clinic or hospital in the United States. This permits work to be conducted not just in the short term, but over a period of years or decades that can reveal critical information to researchers.

That leads us to another key way that these labs enhance health care. When we are being treated at a doctor's office or hospital, we may have tissue collected and tested. Those procedures are typically done immediately, with results soon to follow. Consequently, these samples are never frozen or stored.

But not every tissue sample is used immediately. A variety of circumstances can dictate a need for long-term preservation of samples. For example, DNA testing for establishing paternity or other family relations may require ongoing attempts as new potential relatives are identified and located. Those far-flung relatives could potentially be saved from deadly illnesses or conditions by being tested for a genetic connection to a known carrier. This knowledge can permit them to get preventive treatments before the condition develops.

Other samples can be stored in anticipation of future technological developments. Properly stored tissue from many years ago has been used on a number of occasions to exonerate convicted suspects, a process impossible without proper preservation of the tissue.

There are many different types of technicians, equipment, and facilities involved in modern health care. Doctors and nurses are the people with the highest profiles, and world-renowned institutions like Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic are widely recognized for what they do. But hard at work behind all of these visible components is a lab network that allows practitioners, investigators, and researchers to bypass the constraints of time, technology, and distance to conduct incredible work that saves and changes lives.