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LIMS: Flexible Data Management

The adage of “adapt or die” applies to a laboratory information management system (LIMS) just as it does to evolution.

Mike May, PhD

Mike May is a freelance writer and editor living in Texas.

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Why an Adaptable LIMS Is So Important

Adaptability in a LIMS can mean adjusting it for the way a researcher works or accommodating changing needs in a lab, such as handling data from new devices added to a workflow. “In order to be accepted and welcomed— especially in R&D-type environments—a LIMS has to be able to handle projects that command innovative solutions and quick development,” says Zsolt Zolnai, head of the Sesame LIMS developed at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

An adaptable LIMS can also save money and reduce the risk of being out of compliance. Waters Corporation in Milford, Massachusetts, developed the NuGenesis Lab Management System (LMS), and principle product manager Garrett Mullen says, “With an adaptable lab management system, a company or lab can use fewer systems, which reduces the cost of managing and of overall maintenance of systems in the lab.” If a company or lab works on projects in a regulated environment, such as developing new medicines, an adaptable LIMS can reduce regulatory risk. “If you can use one system—instead of having several to keep certified and updated—it can reduce risk when the regulator comes to look at data records,” Mullen explains.

Some systems are aimed at specific uses. As an example, STARLIMS from Abbott in Abbott Park, Illinois, “provides labs with the cumulative analytics and data management tools that are needed for health care environments,” says Jacqueline Barberena, director of global marketing and communications for informatics. This system, says Barberena, helps “laboratories worldwide optimize data accessibility, integrity, and analytics.”

In many ways, adaptable means personalized. “We can configure our LabVantage 8 to work the way you want to work,” says Ralph Goldberg, product manager at LabVantage in Somerset, New Jersey. For many users, that will be one of the key aspects of adaptability. Raj Maitra, another product manager at LabVantage, puts it all in perspective: “When something is easy to configure and change, it’s less of a headache.” That could be a mantra for an adaptable LIMS—fewer headaches.

Create your own flow

“An adaptable LIMS will not lock its users into a rigid workflow but will handle and track any workflow,” Zolnai says. As an example of how to do this, he says, the software can allow “the objects that are handled by the LIMS to be linked to each other [with] no restriction, and it will also allow these objects to be used independently [of] each other.” He adds that this lets “the LIMS be phased into a lab incrementally and independently of the workflow.”

When looking for a LIMS, Zolnai proposes high expectations. “An adaptable LIMS should fit [more easily] into laboratory operations, and its introduction should not be a disruptive event.”

Mullen points out that scientists can use the “Smart Builder” feature to set up the NuGenesis LMS. “You just drag and drop saved building blocks—like an instrument selection or sample measurement—to set up more complex procedures,” he says.

Other vendors also create development methods, such as the LabVantage Connect tool. “It lets you communicate with instruments through drivers,” says Goldberg. “We have a number of drivers to handle the output from various instruments, and we can add more.” Users of LabVantage 8 can even design the user interface the way they want it. “Anyone going into the system can choose the view they like,” Maitra says.

So when you think “adaptable” in a LIMS, decide what you want to be able to control or change—now and over time. Then you can select the option that delivers the control you need to keep your research evolving instead of going extinct.

How to Choose the LIMS for You

Before you can start deciding on which LIMS to get, you first have to determine what type of LIMS you want. Here’s how to do so.

For additional resources on LIMS, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit