Bio-banking has seen many changes over the past decade and is an important resource in medical research. Because the biological samples (usually in vials) are processed, labeled, stored and retrieved, it is crucial for the samples to be handled properly to avoid a potentially dangerous outbreak.
A keen example in the past recent months, separate Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratories that store high-risk, “select agents”, inadvertently sent dangerous materials to other laboratories possibly infecting scientists and killing other test specimens. This included possibly exposing CDC employees to live anthrax. In an unrelated incident CDC director, Thomas Frieden also announced that two of six vials of smallpox recently found stored in a National Institute of Health laboratory since 1954 contained live virus capable of infecting people.
Frieden has since taken control over these serious mishaps and temporarily closed the laboratories, however the damage may be already done since scientists have seen anthrax colonies growing on them. In another mishap that occurred at a CDC influenza lab, a benign flu strain and the dangerous H5N1 strain of the bird flu that killed 386 people in 2003 were cross contaminated and sent to poultry researchers where their chickens all died. What is even more scary is that the CDC may never know how this mishap occurred since the materials used in the experiment to culture the virus were discarded shortly after. Furthermore, CDC top executives did not find out about this until six weeks later. Although no one became ill, Frieden called this mishap “the most distressing” because of the risk posed by the virus. Currently, federal officials are investigating how it was not reported up the chain of command.