Walk into any biology lab, and you’ll see freezers full of precious biological samples that researchers typically use to gain insights on cancer, heart disease or some other ailment. The freezers run around the clock for years, sucking up lots of electricity.
But what if scientists could store their samples at room temperature by just sticking them on a shelf, in a reasonably dry place? San Diego-based Biomatrica has been pushing this idea since it crafted its prototype technology in 2004. Now Biomatrica has started to gain some market acceptance. President Rolf Muller says sales have doubled in the last year, the company has grown from 13 to 25 employees, and the business became cash-flow positive.
Keeping biological samples cold in the lab, and as they are shipped between researchers around the world, is a big business worth an estimated $38 billion worldwide, Biomatrica says. The volume of samples stored in the freezer is on a steep growth curve as scientists dig deeper into analyzing the DNA, RNA, and proteins in those samples. The Rand Corp. recently estimated there are 307 million tissue specimens stored in the U.S., and 20 million more are added each year. Years of research can literally go down the drain if a freezer breaks down because of a power outage or a mechanical failure. So Biomatrica hopes to build demand for both practical and altruistic reasons among biologists who are looking for ways to both safeguard their specimens and work in a more environmentally-friendly manner.
“The concept is revolutionary,” Muller says. “It’s a new way of preserving biological materials and keeping them stable. It’s like inventing canning for the food industry.”
Digging through a freezer to find an old sample can be pretty difficult sometimes. Taking it off a shelf and reviving it with water sounds great. If this technology could really be used with complex samples, such as cells or tissue, it would be a real breakthrough.
For instance, every therapeutic, recombinant protein expressed by using cell culture has to be produced from cells stored in a Master Cell Bank. Currently, all these have to be stored in frozen vials until needed. This can be a lot of money and energy, things made much cheaper if this technology is robust.