Biobanking involves the long-term storage of biological samples. When working in a biobank, it’s important to consider the possibility that storage containers, which are sterile, pyrogen-free, and disposable, can potentially still harm your valuable biological samples. When manufacturing tubes used in biobanking and research, caution is taken in sourcing raw materials (resins) that are virgin (not previously used) and adhering to various regulatory specifications. However, although utmost care can be taken in selecting the right resins for manufacturing, studies show that additives in polymers and their degradation products can leach from storage tubes, potentially affecting the assays you performed on biobanked samples.
What are extractables and leachables?
Extractables are chemicals that can potentially transfer from plastic consumables into a sample that comes in contact with the plastic. Manufacturing of plastics often involves addition of certain chemicals to give the desired properties of a plastic product. This can include UV stabilizers or anti-oxidants, for example. Leachables are a subset of the extractables that seep out of a plastic product over time. You can think about plastic as a sponge that can both soak in and also release chemicals. In this example, extractables are within the sponge material and leachables are what comes out of the sponge during normal storage conditions.
Where might I find leachables?
Leachables can be found in a plastic product (including packaging) or a sample that has come in to contact with a plastic storage product. Leachables found in samples intended for long-term storage are an often-overlooked issue that can affect downstream processing of samples, data collection, and analyses. If you routinely store samples, you need to be aware of the possible impact of leachables on your samples so that steps can be taken to minimize or eliminate their interference. Extractables and leachables are an integral component of all plastics and can be very common. As such, one can assume that all plastic containers and packaging material used in laboratories and biobanks contain extractables and leachables.
Banking on limiting leachables
Typically GC/MS or ICP/MS (gas chromatography/mass spectrometry or inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry) and LC/UV (ultra violet liquid chromatography) can be used for detection of leachables.
By properly testing and keeping a close eye on plasticware you use in research and biobanking, you can limit leachables to a large extent. As the plastic and packaging industry evolves, and the need for storing complex biological samples increases, constant development of more sensitive tests for extractables and leachables will be necessary. You can make yourself more aware of extractables and leachables by choosing products that contain 100% virgin plastic. You can also educate yourself by contacting the manufacturer of your storage product and having a conversation about extractables and leachables, as there is oftentimes more information available than what comes packaged with the product.
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