The validity of your research depends on the quality of the tissue samples you’re using. You need to have full traceability of your tissues to really understand their quality – and viability. This can be difficult if you are using disparate, legacy systems, and/or spreadsheets, to manage your tissues. You have probably built up a significant amount of data across your systems over time. But the consistency, accuracy and nature of information you capture against each tissue sample could vary greatly.
Missing or inaccurate information can lead you to select unsuitable specimens for analysis and processing. It can also lead to valid samples in your repository not being highlighted as applicable for use. Or, even worse, you could end up using samples without the appropriate consent.
If your tissue sample collection spans numerous databases and spreadsheets, it can be time-consuming and expensive just searching for specimens to use in your research. Sometimes it’s just quicker and easier to buy more samples – which are not cheap.
The result: you end up wasting your valuable time, money, tissue samples and resources.
How can you improve the traceability of your tissue samples?
Improving the traceability and, as a result, quality of your tissue samples involves several components. These include the processes you use to capture data at the time you take the tissue sample, through to how you manage its associated data as it progresses through your laboratory.
A centralised sample tracking software or Laboratory Information Management software (LIMS) system can help standardise your processes for data registration, use and management. These systems give you simple tools to import, validate and format incoming data. They are designed to ensure consistency and quality in the information provided by your tissue sample suppliers and your own team. They also give you comprehensive management and auditing tools for complete tissue traceability – from initial donation through to use or destruction.
However, capturing tissue sample data accurately and consistently is only the start. It’s just as important to look at what data you are holding against each tissue sample when you’re accessing its quality and viability.
The importance of capturing additional profile and metadata in tracing tissue viability
For example, if you record a sample’s characteristics, collection method and condition, previous storage temperatures and movement you can understand its freeze-thaw cycles and identify any possible risk of contamination.
In addition, advanced sample management software and laboratory information management systems (LIMS) enable you to record detailed donor profile data alongside your tissue sample. This can include consent options and demographic data, such as lifestyle, diseases, diagnosis and treatment history. As a result, you get an enhanced insight into your tissue samples’ provenance as well as how you can legally use them. Plus, you can really target your research by selecting tissue samples with very specific characteristics.
Capturing this information is only the start; you need to carefully manage the access, maintenance, and augmentation, of your tissue sample data. But you need to make this easy for your team to carry out their work while ensuring quality. Sample management and LIMS software give you the tools so you can manage processes and workflows, audit data, and continue to capture data consistently. Plus, they also give you security options to restrict access. The approach and functionality available will vary between systems and suppliers.
Using sample tracking software or LIMS system to improve your tissue sample quality
Sample tracking software and LIMS systems can help improve your tissue sample quality by giving you the tools to capture data and processes consistently with full traceability. With so many systems out there how do you know which one is right for you? Firstly, and most importantly, be clear about what quality means to you and how you assess it! Then focus on what you do – be realistic, honest and clear – to put together your requirements list against. You can use this then to assess software. Some initial questions to start you thinking about what you need are:
- what tasks, processes, research or analysis do/will you perform?
- what types of tissue samples do you need and what criteria do you use to identify them?
- how and where do you obtain tissue samples, how do you select them and what information do you receive with them that you would like to capture and would help you assess suitability?
- how do you manage donor consent? Do you need to?
- what criteria would you use to exclude tissue samples?
- who needs to know the outcome of your work and how should this information be presented?
- what information is included in the results/outcome, and how and where is this recorded?
- who else requires access to the tissue samples and what can they use them for?
- what happens to the tissue samples once you have completed your work, study, process?
Finally, when choosing any software don’t underestimate the importance of the supplier. You need to be comfortable that they really understand what you need and how you work. And that you can work with them as you could be working with them for many years.