Managing the past for the future!

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20 May, 2014

Managing the past for the future!

The biological samples that you generate in the lab or the clinic, from DNA and RNA to blood, tissue and cells, represent both a wealth of high value, untapped data and a tangible record of your work (as well as that of your organization). Ensuring this material is efficiently preserved is perhaps an activity taken for granted, especially when time pressures can push our attentions elsewhere.

For those of you frequently using manual stores, the following description may resonate, although not necessarily in a good way! Initially, you label your containers and place them in the freezer, with a quick check of their position under the pretense that you’ll easily be able to find them later. In reality, when the time comes for you to use those samples again, you inevitably find yourself in front of said freezer, door ajar, rummaging around for your particular samples amidst a plethora of others. Meanwhile, the temperature is rising, the samples are thawing and their integrity is being compromised. We’ve all done it at some point in our research life. It’s a common scenario and it represents a real problem, especially with older legacy sample storage systems.

While an academic institute may have a few hundred samples, larger clinical or industrial laboratories may have hundreds of thousands or more, spanning different types and formats, spread across global sites. Even in facilities with automated systems or even 2D barcode tracking, the sample retrieval and management process can be problematic, and reformatting those samples to efficiently update and upgrade your store can pose significant challenges.

Making the transition from legacy hardware to a new automated biobanking system can, in some cases, be a lengthy and tedious process, which many people associate with enormous investment and financial outlay. Thankfully, this does not always have to be the case.

Instead, biobanking technology is taking great steps towards eliminating this issue, and helping you to preserve – and manage – your sample data. Advanced, modular biobanking systems are now available to make this process easy and cost effective.

Maintaining stability

Careful thought around how you operate your sample storage facility is essential if you are to avoid serious ramifications.

The primary risk is mostly due to the fact that repeated freeze-thawing of samples can lead to sample deterioration, resulting in skewed results and reducing the quality and reliability of the data produced. Several studies carried out over the last decade or so have highlighted the severity of these effects, for example, by showing that mass spectrometry analysis of plasma samples is significantly impacted, while the effects caused by protein denaturation can also reduce enzymatic activity in the samples. This severely limits the value of these samples for use in processes like biomarker and drug discovery. Having a large number of samples present can exacerbate this issue even further, due to the extended time required to find, access and process a particular sample or sample subset.

Fortunately, technological advances in biobanking have streamlined the transfer and ‘updating’ of legacy samples: the CryoXtract is one such technology. This piece of hardware operates within the freezer itself – functioning down to -80oC – and serves as a proprietary coring system, capable of automatically removing frozen cores from a parent sample without ever needing to thaw a sample. A team at AIT Biosciences recently put this to the test, assessing the stability of re-aliquoted plasma samples. They found that ELISA results from aliquoted samples showed no difference when compared with the parent sample.

Combining this with an automated freezer like TTP Labtech’s arktic systems means that you can create a hermetically sealed biobanking system linked to an electronic sample database (thanks to the use of bar-coded microtubes). The location of these samples, along with any associated meta data, can then be precisely tracked. All of this is then coupled with the ability to re-aliquot thousands of frozen samples, without the need to extract and thaw them manually.

Preparing for bigger things

From a practical standpoint, this biobanking solution takes up minimal space and permits easy, cost effective, incremental expansion as your storage requirements increase, thanks to its compact storage design and modular nature.

However, from a potential research stance, the benefit is even greater. With every sample added to the biobank, its value increases. Being able to access and analyze potentially years of data in retrospect is immensely valuable, while to be able to do this easily and without the fear of error, sample degradation or sample loss is priceless.

To read more on reformatting of samples for future use read our recent article in Genetic Engineering and Technology News.

You can also take part in a free workshop on developments in sample management on 22nd September 2014 in Basel, jointly presented by TTP Labtech, Titian Software, FluidX and Specs. Get details from our Miptec events page.