While the democratization of big-ticket instrumentation has made some research center core laboratories obsolete, core labs for medical testing and next-generation sequencing (NGS) are apparently here to stay.
But despite these shifts, most substantial laboratory enterprises rely on the core lab concept to some degree, which presents unique challenges for data management. Laboratory information management systems (LIMS) have as a consequence evolved to address the special needs for data integrity, ownership, accessibility, and integration with local computing, data, and instrument systems.
Core facilities execute work requests from multiple labs while documenting all processes and data securely and in standardized formats so that information flowing into the LIMS of requesting labs is understandable and accessible. “This level of traceability is necessary when a lab is running a variety of experiments under multiple requests,” says Trish Meek, director, commercial operations for core informatics at Thermo Fisher Scientific. “Performing tests, maintaining quality, and moving data are not trivial considerations for large core labs.”
Although LIMSs are often viewed as a solution for errors introduced via manual manipulation and data entry, perhaps the greatest benefit arises in labs that are completely automated or nearly so—the case with most NGS and diagnostics labs. Data quality and interchangeability aside, the sheer volume of data generated by these core labs becomes the paramount issue, and the need for LIMSs more compelling. In a 2014 Clinical Biochemist Reviews article, Richard Jones of the Yorkshire Centre for Health Informatics at the University of Leeds (Leeds, UK) notes that despite extensive computerization, the 152 National Health Service laboratories in the UK send six million pieces of paper annually to one another, at a cost of 300 person-years. By contrast, Britain’s National Pathology Exchange, based on LIMSs, is virtually paperless.
In the clouds
In March, Thermo Fisher Scientific acquired Core Informatics, a provider of cloud-based scientific data management products, which laboratories have embraced enthusiastically. Every major LIMS player now offers cloud-based products. The Core acquisition is part of Thermo Fisher’s “digital science solutions” strategy that covers life science discovery through manufacturing.
Cloud operation and integration with conventional data platforms such as electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) are significant trends in LIMSs generally that serve core labs in particular. Cloud-based systems allow instant access from anywhere while shifting the burdens of data storage and security to companies that do it best. Core’s product provides sample management, chain of custody, and scheduling in addition to conventional LIMS functions like electronic document management, data security, analysis, instrument integration and management, etc.
The democratization of LIMS through cloud services is evident from android apps available from the Google Play store, many of which appear to have built-in ELN features and full access via a tablet or phone: 3LOG LIMS for timber processing companies, an interface to Abbott’s full-featured Starlims, Expert iLIMS for general laboratory data management. All top LIMS providers offer mobile access through proprietary interfaces as well.
For additional resources on LIMS, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit www.labmanager.com/LIMS