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December 01, 2010 (Vol. 30, No. 21)

Automation Improves Biobanking Efficiency

Benefits Include Sample Integrity and Security and Labor, Maintenance, and Energy Cost Savings

  • Click Image To Enlarge +
    Figure 2. BiOS is a next-generation automated mid- to large-size ultra-low temperature sample store.

    To address these challenges, many organizations are moving to biobank automation, which delivers a number of advantages. First, these automated systems are closed, so temperatures are kept more constant and moisture cannot enter the storage compartment, preventing freeze-thaw cycles and maintaining sample integrity.

    Additionally, in Hamilton Storage systems, the cherry-picking process, in which individual samples are removed from racks of tubes, is carried out in a special tube-picking module where the temperature is kept at -20ºC. The remaining samples can then be transported back to -80ºC storage without being exposed to room temperature. Many automated systems also feature fail-safe mechanisms to maintain temperature such as mechanical cooling, backed up by power generators or gas-based backup systems.

    Automated systems deliver big labor savings. It can take, on average, 2.5 hours to store and retrieve 100 samples manually, while an automated system such as the BiOS System from Hamilton Storage Technologies, shown in Figure 2, can retrieve up to 10,000 individual samples in a day. By spending less time retrieving samples, scientists can focus more attention on their research.

    In addition to labor savings, maintenance and energy costs can be reduced with an automated sample-storage system. For example, during this year’s “International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories” conference, the National Cancer Institute projected the cancer Human Biobank could save an estimated 83% on space and energy costs over the next 10 years by switching to an automated system.

    Automated systems with password access provide security and ensure that samples are automatically tracked when they enter and exit the system. The software capabilities maintain a complete log, tracking who took out the sample, what was done with it, how long it was out, and how many times it was taken out. This provides a complete audit trail for the sample and the facility. A high-level report can be created at any time for any sample along with the entire temperature history.

    The automated system’s administrator or lab manager can set thresholds and alarms for desired sample storage and handling conditions. The system can also produce a regular diagnostic report for the service administrator. Detailed and accurate chain-of-custody documents are easily produced, which can be invaluable in regulated environments and in forensics-related court testimony.

    Automation eliminates most human handling steps, which are a major source of errors in sample management. Errors ranging from mislabeling to misplacing or even losing a sample can occur, which can have a disastrous impact on a research project. Removing high-risk areas of human handling increases the reliability, sample tracking, and accuracy of a working biobank. An automated storage system can also be integrated with sample preparation steps, such as DNA extraction, for further process streamlining.

    As biobanks continue to grow in the research industry, many organizations are turning to automation to standardize procedures and implement best practices that ensure sample integrity and security. The results will be greater access to higher-quality samples, providing researchers with the right resources to discover the next generation of treatments for diseases.

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