What are Human Biospecimens?


What are Human Biospecimens?

A human biospecimen is any natural material from the human body, such as tissue, blood, and urine. Biospecimens are usually obtained during a diagnostic test or a procedure, such as surgery. Patients may give permission so that a small amount of a biospecimen (such as blood or tissue removed from a procedure) that exceeds what is needed for medical care can be stored and used for research. These are designated as research biospecimens.

Biospecimens contain molecules that can be analyzed for indications of diseases. Biospecimens may confirm whether a disease is present or absent in a particular person, and research on biospecimens is especially helpful for understanding more about how disease processes may start and progress. This understanding may lead to better detection of diseases at the earliest stages and may permit design of more effective treatments.


Why are Human Biospecimens Important for Research?

Precision medicine is an emerging approach for preventing and treating an illness. This approach considers individual differences in genes, environment, and lifestyle to understand how to tailor treatments for each patient. This approach will allow doctors and researchers to better predict which treatment and prevention strategies will work for a disease in certain groups of people. With permission, scientists are also analyzing a vast amount of clinical information about patients' health and disease, taken from patient records and clinical trials to help them identify disease patterns. Biospecimens can provide a bridge between emerging molecular information and clinical information to diagnose and treat disease in new and more effective ways.

Research biospecimens provide unique and essential resources for future research aimed at improving precision medicine. This research depends on the capability of medical scientists to compare the properties from thousands of research biospecimens from patients that are healthy and from patients with specific diseases. They aim to identify the differences that have specific diagnostic and therapeutic value in individual patients. Therefore, the availability of many high quality biological samples or biospecimens is the foundation for this important research.

Donating your biological samples is like adding building blocks to the strengthen the foundation of a big library. While each biosample is unique and very important, when added to other biosamples, important medical discoveries can be made to advance everybody’s future medical care, especially with difficult to treat diseases like cancer.


Commonly, research human biospecimens are used to:

  • Identify and validate ways to deliver drugs or agents to specific cells
  • Identify how diseases vary in their development and progression
  • Group patients as more or less likely to respond to specific drugs or types of therapies
  • Group patients to determine which treatment is appropriate for different stages of a disease
  • Develop screening tests to detect biomarkers that are associated with certain stages or sub-types of a disease for earlier and more accurate diagnoses