Whether you are storing biological samples for short or longer periods of time, and even if they are being shipped out to long-term storage facilities, barcoding and labelling samples appropriately will help your team considerably reduce costs and improve efficiency.
Storing biological samples takes up valuable space and resources and can be very expensive. Holding your biological samples in off-site storage facilities may free up space and administrative resource but can still be a considerable cost.
Biological samples that come into the laboratory for use in research are often used immediately or stored for only a short period. Samples that are surplus to requirements may be transferred to other departments, destroyed or stored. In contrast, biobanks, biorepositories and those performing clinical trials could be storing biological samples for very long periods of time.
Handwritten labels on samples using permanent markers – not us!
If you recognise any of the following you are not alone:
- samples stored in boxes that have their contents written on using permanent markers;
- vials with illegible, handwritten labels;
- bags containing a random assortment of tubes with the name of the researcher written on the bag;
- vials with missing labels that fell off some time ago;
- samples with non-unique reference numbers written or printed on them;
- the sample or the reference number is recognisable, but you have no idea who the sample belongs to, whether it is suitable or if you can legally use it.
You may be surprised to learn that these challenges do not just affect small labs.
More than just printing a label
There are an assortment of label generators and printers available as well as pre-barcoded vials and tubes. Ensuring your biological samples and racks or boxes have unique barcode labels associated with them is the first step to improved sample management and identification. Consistently recording these barcodes along with their associated sample details (such as tissue type, storage location and sample expiry/retention date) in a searchable database allows your team to quickly identify material and assess its viability.
Advanced Sample Management software provides additional capability by capturing detailed sample and donor profiling information along with informed consent options. If pre-barcoded labels are being used, Sample Management software provides reference fields to allow pre-barcoded tube identifiers to be captured against each sample. Alternatively, these applications can generate unique references for each biological sample. This information is then used to generate 1D and 2D barcode labels from the application and, where appropriate, include human-readable text. In addition, integration with label generating software, such as BarTender™, can provide enhanced flexibility and functionality when creating labels.
Barcode labels are not just generated for individual biological samples. They can also be created for your freezers, racks, shelves, towers, and boxes. With sophisticated Sample Management and Laboratory Information Management Software (LIMS) facilitating searches using barcodes, your team can see exactly what is being stored within each location.
How can sample identification in a Sample Management system help my lab?
The benefits of improved sample identification within Sample Management software include:
- Saving time
- identifying samples without having to find the right person to ask;
- Saving costs
- understand what is in your inventory and avoid buying surplus samples;
- Improving quality
- scanning racks and boxes to audit your inventory;
- using scanners to automatically update your inventory data;
- automated sample movement tracking using hand-held or rack scanners;
- Improving efficiency
- scanning samples and freezers to check in/out/move samples;
- Improving compliance
- scanning samples to check consent information before sample use;
- consistent and accessible information to hand during inspections/audits.
Whether you are a small lab or multinational, global corporation, being able to quickly and easily identify what is in your sample inventory, where it is stored, how it can be used and how long it can be stored, is invaluable information. Barcoding or correctly labelling your biological samples is the first step on the road to a trustworthy sample inventory that helps you to achieve your objectives, not hinder them.