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getting it sorted! - managing large biobank collections with a small compact automated biostore

Our blog

03 June, 2019

For any manual biobank, sample archiving is a time-consuming process. Whilst the efficiency of sample retrieval can be dramatically improved by pre-sorting samples prior to storage, this requires significant upfront effort that can rarely be achieved with limited resources.

The MRC Epidemiology unit (Cambridge, UK), streamlined their workflow to provide a highly organized archive of samples for efficient retrieval with just a modest budget and without infrastructure changes by implementing a small automated biostore in combination with existing ULT freezers. Read on to find out how.

Addressing common biobank bottlenecks and risks

The MRC Epidemiology unit runs population-based studies investigating the determinants of diabetes, obesity and related metabolic disorders. Previously, samples received from field clinics would be placed into ULT freezers for long term storage. Although simple and robust, there were two concerns. Firstly, all aliquots collected from a patient at a specific time point were held and stored in one rack. Should that freezer fail, time point samples for more than a thousand patients would be lost. Secondly, sample requests for research are typically for a single sample type across the whole cohort, meaning a single tube picked from each stored rack which takes several months for an individual to pick.

Fixing a big biobank problem with a small store!

The introduction of TTP Labtech’s arktic has streamlined the workflow and alleviated the concerns described above. On arrival, samples received from remote locations are loaded directly into arktic. Worklists generated by the LIMS (laboratory information management system) direct arktic to sort samples into groups based on sample type, (e.g. plasma, serum, urine etc.), using the tube 2D barcode. Specified sample types from 96 different patients are retrieved from arktic into racks. Racks are transferred to ULT freezers for long term storage.

Risks reduced and time saved

Hundreds of hours of technician time per year have been saved through the incorporation of the arktic into their workflows, enabling much better use of FTE time. Requests can now be handled rapidly, with samples for full cohort studies retrieved in a just a matter of days. Care is also taken to spread the sorted racks of samples across several freezers. A single patient’s aliquots are never held together in a single freezer, removing the risk of losing precious samples should an archive freezer fail.


By identifying specific bottlenecks in their workflow and risks to their samples, the MRC sought a solution that could bring massive efficiency savings to their operation. Researchers can now access requested samples within days rather than months and the risk of losing all specific time-point samples from patients has been completely removed. It’s all pretty smart if you ask me!

Click here for the full technical note.