Cell Lines Lost in Flood at Copenhagen Biobank

Aftermath. The scene at the biobank earlier this week.

Danish Cancer Society

Last weekend's flooding in Copenhagen has destroyed hundreds of cell lines at the Danish Cancer Society's Biobank. Scientists are still working to assess the full damage, says Jørgen Olsen, the head of the biobank; they have been able to salvage more than 1 million tissue samples, however, including those from a 20-year prospective study of nutrition and cancer.

Heavy rains flooded Copenhagen's streets and sewers on Saturday, causing extensive damage across the city. The cancer society's basement filled with 2 meters of water in about half an hour on Saturday evening, Olsen says. "That was about 20 centimeters too high for the freezers," he says, which filled with water, thawing the cell lines and tissue samples. Researchers weren't able to reach their samples until mid-day Sunday, when the water had partially receded. By that time, a refrigerated van had arrived from Jutland, allowing researchers to refreeze the samples.

The cell lines are unlikely to survive the thaw, but the tissue samples are less delicate, Olsen says. "It doesn't matter that they were warmed up for a few hours, as long as you freeze them down again," he says. Some of the lost cell lines were shared with other laboratories and can be retrieved, but Olsen estimates that many dozens have been lost permanently. He says the cleanup and full damage assessment will take months.