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How Automating Sample Management Works

Problem: Advancements in technology in the scientific arena have led to the requirement to store larger numbers of compounds including small molecules, potential drug candidates or biological samples.

by TTP Labtech
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Problem: Advancements in technology in the scientific arena have led to the requirement to store larger numbers of compounds including small molecules, potential drug candidates or biological samples. Upscaling storage from a few hundred to several hundred thousand samples creates a number of issues and challenges that need to be met in order to achieve an optimal solution. A manual approach involves a person opening the freezer, finding the samples that they require, placing them into another rack on ice and going back to the lab to aliquot and process the sample. For a large number of samples, this process can take a few minutes through to several hours.

Even with the most organized sample management systems, there can be problems with identifying the sample (the ink has been rubbed off, the label is not present or not readable, the coding is not understood, or the wrong sample in the allocated position). While trying to identify the sample, neighboring samples in the same rack are also subjected to temperature changes while the freezer is open, potentially affecting the viability of any of these samples. This problem is accentuated if sample storage is not highly organized with a consistent sample racking system. A highly reliable approach is vital to the protection of the compounds or samples, with a backup plan in place in case of mechanical failure. Often a separate ‘backup freezer’ is used for this purpose, although the investment in yet more expensive freezer systems is not the most economical solution available, placing even greater emphasis on informed freezer choice. Lastly, the capability of a chosen system to develop alongside organization growth is important to consider, in particular the space required for multiple freezers.TTP Labtech’s arktic® (-80°C) freezer system.

Solution: The conversion from a manually operated storage system to a fully automated system can be a daunting prospect and is often a multiphase project. However, having a long-term strategy in place at the initial set-up will help the process immensely by consolidating tube types and storage systems that grow with the business. Initial low cost solutions could include bar code labeling of samples and a basic Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) that allows for traceability of samples, thereby reducing the risk of sample loss and/or incorrect labeling.

As increased data is produced for each sample and a greater number of samples are being stored, a more sophisticated LIMS system is required that can integrate data to specific samples and have a recording system that approaches the regulatory requirements appropriate for the specific laboratory. Although there are several companies that can help with individual sample storage challenges, TTP Labtech provides a holistic solution that aims to overcome many of these problems. The comPOUND® (-20°C) and arktic® (-80°C) freezer systems are examples of compact, high density modules that provide robust storage with fast and accurate sample retrieval. Two hundred thousand samples can be stored in comPOUND, which has a comparable footprint to a standard laboratory freezer. Barcoded samples are identified remotely and dispensed into a racking system within seconds, all without the need to actually open the freezer. The arktic has an additional module that stores the samples at -20°C after retrieval, retaining the integrity of the samples as much as possible. The temperature fluctuations often associated with reduced sample viability experienced in most freezer systems is eliminated. This enables many samples that would normally be stored at -80°C to be stored at -20°C instead. The reliability of these freezers is maximized thanks to TTP Labtech’s proprietary pneumatic transport technology, which removes the need for moving parts within the cold zone and provides robust storage, module longevity and minimal downtime. Lastly, as a company expands and requires a greater storage capacity, TTP Labtech offers an integrated modular system that links multiple systems together and can offer cherry-picking across them to deliver the required samples directly to a central location. The confidence in a fast, flexible and reliable storage solution is key to a successful business and therefore it is essential to consider all these points before making a long-term investment in a sample storage system.

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