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How Safeguarding Sample Integrity with Automated Storage Systems Works

Almost every laboratory requires sample storage, regardless of whether the samples to be stored are  chemical or biological in nature.

by Tobias Gafafer
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Problem: Almost every laboratory requires sample storage, regardless of whether the samples to be stored are chemical or biological in nature. Manual storage methods typically involve multiple sample container types stacked haphazardly across many freezers that are shared with other users as part of an ad hoc storage system. Overcrowding is an issue for users as conventional freezers take up precious lab space; and it’s also problematic for the sample quality. Crowded samples can block air flow in freezers, leading to significant temperature gradients that can often degrade samples. As users rummage through the freezer to add or find their samples, they expose the entire freezer contents to warm ambient room conditions, which can further degrade samples, especially if samples are removed completely to access the far reaches of the freezer. Even if logs are maintained to track sample locations and access, there’s no guarantee that the samples weren’t inadvertently moved or mishandled by another user, and no documentation to track how many times the freezer contents were exposed to ambient conditions, or for how long.

Solution: The Verso automated sample storage system (Hamilton Storage, Franklin, MA) offers complete control over environmental conditions, access, and traceability to protect sample integrity, even among shared users. Verso is controlled via a simple ‘three-click’ software interface, and may also be easily integrated into a LIMS system for remote management. A convenient hands-free foot switch is used to open the Input/Out (I/O) module for sample placement or retrieval. Up to 100 racks, containing a wide variety of tubes and vials, or microplates and full trays, are placed into the I/O module. Once the module is closed, a robotic shuttle moves the samples to an identification station, where the individual samples are scanned to initiate the audit trail, then moved to the designated storage location.

Verso offers storage temperatures from ambient to -20°C. All processing steps—such as identifying, picking, and storing—occur at the same temperature so that samples are not subject to freeze/thaw cycles that occur with manual storage methods. In addition, an inert gas environment (nitrogen) can be created to further assist with the most beneficial repository conditions. A wide range of system and sample reports may be automatically generated for temperature history, sample access, job history, system usage, and more, while a complete audit trail is maintained for every sample throughout its life cycle. To retrieve samples, users enter the request through the LIMS system or at the user interface. A Universal Tube Picker (Figure 1) cherry-picks multiple sample types with different diameters, and the robotic shuttle delivers the samples to the I/O module for users to retrieve, or to a hand-off arm for integration with a liquid handling system or third-party robotic system. These advanced storage and processing steps further eliminate the risk of sample degradation, and significantly reduce labor time as the processing occurs unsupervised, including overnight.

Up to 1,500 tubes/hour or 170 plates/hour may be processed from order submission to retrieval, while a priority management system allows critical picking requests to interrupt routine jobs. An optional dual tray shuttle on large models increases throughput, and optional active thawing accelerates subsequent processing steps such as pipetting or centrifuging. Verso’s software includes extended security features so that samples cannot be accessed by any unauthorized users. Finally, the system is modular so that it can be expanded at any time without the inconvenience and cost associated with new equipment purchases. Automated sample storage systems such as Verso further enable sample management in the lab while eliminating the risk of sample degradation that is typical of traditional manual storage practices.

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