Effective sample management underlies the validity and reliability of any research performed in a laboratory setting. The quality of your results is reliant on the quality of your samples, which is also determined by the efficacy of a sample management workflow. Valuable data could be compromised if samples are not collected carefully or recorded and stored precisely.
Today, instead of handwritten labeling and physical logging, most labs rely on digitized laboratory information management systems (LIMS). However, some degree of manual information management is still used and Excel files storing information is still commonplace.
Unfortunately, managing samples in this way can open the door to a lack of data traceability and loss of irreplaceable samples simply due to human error. At any stage of the sample management chain, simple mistakes can have catastrophic results. Below a believable worst-case scenario of what could happen when samples are mislabeled is outlined.
Drawbacks of sample management — A case study
In this case study of a lab that did not have an effective LIMS sample management solution in place, a crucial sample has been incorrectly labeled due to human error. It is likely that this sample would be stored incorrectly, potentially under cryogenic conditions.
The sample tube and cap will gradually leak and material will be lost as they are not designed for cryogenic conditions. As there is not an appropriate seal, any sample kept in the tube could be cross-contaminated and become unusable.
Yet, the analyst is unlikely to notice as the label is incorrect and might continue utilizing the sample in subsequent experiments. This would cause false-positive results for experiments.
The sample is repeatedly utilized for subsequent analyses because of the apparent success of the experiment, but gradually, the manual label becomes illegible. The sample is now missing and the analyst may try to find it by defrosting other cryogenic racks which could potentially affect the viability of any samples contained within.
This is a worst-case scenario of what can happen when an effective sample management solution is not in place, but it is not unrealistic or dramatized. Fort Detrick U.S. Army research lab was derided for its poor sample management system in the 1990s when 27 sets of extremely dangerous specimens were reported missing.
These specimens included anthrax spores, AIDS virus, Ebola, hantavirus and other samples which were simply labeled “unknown”. A further inquiry found evidence of deliberate tampering and covert research; most of these samples were never seen again.
Benefits of an effective sample management strategy
Samples are secured safely in the correct environment and by using a robust sample management system which can minimize the risk of samples becoming compromised. Scanners and barcode labels increase the accuracy of data entry and significantly reduce the time taken to input sample information.
When multiple researchers are handling samples before and after analysis, this method can also reduce friction, eliminating the risk of labels degrading and becoming hard to read.
About Ziath Ltd
Ziath specializes in instrumentation control and information management in both the academic and the pharmaceutical/biotech industry sectors with a focus on the application of laboratory automation. In particular, we focus on managing large sample libraries (compound management, biobanking and sample management) using 2D datamatrix tubes.
Founded in 2005 by scientists and engineers; Ziath is over a decade old and is proud to server customers across the world. Ziath develops innovative new products designed to simplify processes in life science organizations. In addition Ziath offers consulting and contracting work to clients.
Ziath has a range of products split into four main categories of 2D barcode scanners, devices for handling tubes, 2D barcoded tubes and sample management software.
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