Almost all biospecimens consist of living cells or suspensions of biomolecules that are the products of living cells. These biological elements are active and reactive and may become modified when subjected to the kinds of environmental changes and biological stresses introduced by the processes of acquisition, handling, storage, and transport. Even during the period prior to acquisition, when the specimens are still in situ within the patient or donor, various interventions may alter the biological environment of the specimen and cause it to react adaptively. Such alterations can occur for biospecimens acquired through major surgical procedures and autopsies as well as for specimens collected under various conditions in population-based studies. These variables may profoundly change the molecular composition or profile of the biospecimen within short periods of time. Although these represent artificial changes, they risk being misinterpreted as disease-related or even disease-specific.
There is a considerable lack of scientific data assessing the effects of specimen handling variables on molecular testing of human tissues. New research in Biospecimen Science will define the precise relationships between biospecimen handling and the quality and reproducibility of data for cancer research. The NCI Biospecimen Research Network (BRN) was initiated to systematically address the impact of specific variables in individual specimen types on molecular data from given analysis platforms.