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Product Focus: LIMS

Despite being available for close to 30 years, laboratory information management systems (LIMSs) are about to undergo a metamorphosis characterized by greater utility, accessibility, and availability–at lower cost.

Angelo DePalma, PhD

Angelo DePalma is a freelance writer living in Newton, New Jersey. You can reach him at

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Central data repositories reinvent themselves

The first LIMS implementations resided on mainframe computers at large companies, a situation that permeated the product platform for several decades, even after personal computers became ubiquitous.

“LIMS technology has lagged behind other software at several levels,” says Aubree Hoover, senior product manager at GenoLogics Life Sciences Software (Victoria, BC). GenoLogics specializes in LIMS for proteomics and genomics, particularly next-generation gene sequencing.

Overcoming deployment difficulties

LIMS's reputation for difficulty-of-use, high cost, a steep learning curve, and spotty accessibility is about to change, as GenoLogics and other firms are offering web-based LIMS and expanding accessibility to portable devices such as smartphones and tablets.

GenoLogics released a cloud-based product in 2013, and now support tablets as well.

Which raises the question of accessibility versus feature set. “To some degree the software must be simplified for use on mobile devices,” Hoover admits. Applications requiring significant keyboard input, for example, are inappropriate for tablets. GenoLogics has instead focused on a level of utility for which handhelds excel, such as sample tracking, and others that make sense for tablets.

Many LIMS vendors now provide some level of service “in the cloud”–known as “software as a service” (SaaS). The idea makes sense for many industries, particularly those that are highly science-based, like GenoLogics’ next-gen sequencing customer base. “Many start-up diagnostics companies have no interest in managing their IT in-house,” Hoover tells Lab Manager. “They want a LIMS, they need one, but they don’t want the overhead.”

Luckily for them, their data is much more secure at a data center than on-site, and the service is less expensive than an in-house installation. Downtime is also significantly reduced, as the LIMS company does not need to travel to the customer for trouble-shooting.

GenoLogics services its cloud customers through Amazon Web Services, whose commercial tagline, “Launch virtual machines and apps in minutes,” illustrates another significant benefit for cloud-based LIMS customers: virtually no start-up time. “Deploying a LIMS used to be like starting a major construction project,” Hoover says.

These benefits have contributed not only to lower prices for functionality equivalent to the most sophisticated systems of a few years ago, but also to a “democratization” of LIMS.

One repository

That is not to say that high-end LIMS installed at the customer’s brick-and-mortar facility are going away any time soon. Tom Dolan, chief operating officer at Ruro (Frederick, MD), notes that over the years many organizations have added layer upon layer of LIMS. One of Ruro’s potential pharmaceutical customers already had seven separate LIMSs installed.

Having many LIMS or other systems can cause a data “silo” effect and it is a common issue, especially among larger institutions. “The idea that many LIMS are needed flies in the face of one of LIMS' most important purposes: to create a central, singular data repository for a lab organization's data," Dolan says.

Today’s life sciences organizations, however, are beginning to recognize the benefits of collaboration across research, development, diagnostics, and patient care. “Creating a single log-in, integrating as much data as possible with the same accuracy checks on all data, and having standardized nomenclature, facilitates collaboration,” Dolan adds. “You can’t merge seven tasks into one when the LIMS can’t see five or six of those tasks.”

The importance of “one LIMS, one log-in, one organization” to highly integrated teams is exemplified by some hospitals and programs that conduct translational medicine. These collaborative organizations house diagnostics labs, clinicians, patient records, and laboratories that conduct basic research. Making sense of projects that flow from the research bench to the bedside is impossible with any number of separate LIMS, but is enabled by one over-arching, all-encompassing solution. “The advantage that translational science institutions have is that, from an early stage, many realized that they would need this level of data unity,” Dolan says.

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