A £24 million scientific centre that could one day help find a cure for cancer this week opened in Milton Keynes.
Muchof the new National Biosample Centre will be run by ROBOTS –because it is too cold for humans.
The building, funded by the Department of Health, will store up to 20 million specimens of blood and urine taken from patients all over the UK .
The tiny test tubes will play a pivotal role in medical research for years to come .
Analysed by scientists and genetic experts, they could hold the key to cures and improved treatments for common ailments such as cancers, dementia and diabetes.
The samples are stored in bus-sized freezers with temperatures of minus 80 degrees centigrade.
“It’s far too cold for humans to enter the freezers, so we use robotic devices,” said a spokesman for the UK Biocentre, which will run the facility.
“Each freezer has a railway track and each sample test tube is barcoded. When a particular one is needed the robot whizzes along, matches the barcode and plucks it out,” the spokesman added.
The Biocentre already runs the UK Biobank, an on-going health study of 500,000 volunteers aged between 45 and 69.
Regular samples of blood and urine will track changes in the participants over the years and provide invaluable research into diseases into everything from stroke to sciatica.
The Milton Keynes centre, sited at Tilbrook, is the largest storage facility of its kind in the UK and was designed with the help of the University of Oxford.
It was officially opened yesterday by Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman.
Mr Freeman said: “The NHS is not only a world class healthcare system but it is fast becoming recognised as a world class research platform for 21st Century medical innovation.”
Dr Tim Peakman, CEO of UK Biocentre, said: “This is an exciting initiative. The aim is to improve health research infrastructure so that researchers can focus on the important stuff – their research.”