The Cryogenics facility (BioBank) in the Lowy Packer building is managed as an essential shared service for the Research Precinct by St Vincents Centre for Applied Research. This facility was purpose built for to address many of the occupational health and safety issues with handling cryogenic fluids, pressurised gases, extremely low temperature (as low as minus 196°C), samples which may be biologically hazadous eg. infectious microorganisms as well as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The facility has the capacity for over 5 million samples which are all stored in 'suspended animation' which enables future biomedical research on living cells and tissue. The BioBank also is the home for a number of valuable 'Tissue Banks' which holds specimens collected from patients with a variety of diseases including cancer, HIV, viral hepatitis and heart disease. Tissue banks are valuable resources which enable researchers to study diseased samples with a view to develop treatments and better diagnostic tests.
Cryogenic storage at very low temperatures is presumed to provide an indefinite, if not near infinite, longevity to cells although the actual “shelf life” is rather difficult to prove. In experiments with dried seeds researchers found that there was noticeable variability in deterioration when samples were kept at different ‘frozen’ temperatures–even ultra cold ones. Temperatures below the glass transition point (Tg) of polyol's water solutions (around minus 136°C) appear to be accepted as the range where biological activity very substantially slows down, and minus 196°C (liquid phase of liquid nitrogen) is the preferred temperature for the storage of important specimens. While fridges, deep freezers and extra cold deep freezers, all similar to domestic ones, are used for many items, generally the ultra cold of liquid nitrogen at -196°C is required for successful preservation of the more complex biological structures to virtually stop all biological activity.