‘Are you aware that your selected research samples are from only 3 donors?’
We asked this question to one of our customer’s after we imported their data into our lab sample management software, Achiever Medical. The import included information taken from several spreadsheets. And it was only when we imported this data into the system that we could all see the bigger picture – and the possible implications. The spreadsheets contained data about hundreds of samples – and on the face of it seemed to offer a wide variety of samples that could be used for research. Yet it was only when we imported it into Achiever Medical that we could see the samples grouped by individual participant – and this gave us a completely different – and important – perspective. The benefit of using software – in this case a LIMS – for sample management was apparent immediately.
Consolidating and standardising your laboratory information and sample data
Storing your data in spreadsheets has its benefits – quick, easy and cheap to name a few. But they don’t always give you the complete picture of your data. When our customer looked at their data in the spreadsheets, it was not immediately apparent that they had split the original samples into many aliquots. This meant that a large proportion of the data were ‘child’ samples. At first glance, there appeared to be an abundant pool of samples which they could choose from for their research. Each sample had its individual sample status, storage information and allocated internal IDs. However, carefully scrolling across the columns and grouping the data showed a slightly different story. This was then compounded across all the other spreadsheets.
The potential impact on the validity of any research results based on such a restricted pool of donors could be significant. And the researchers would never have been aware of this.
Consolidating your data into a single sample management system gives you greater insight into the quality – and extent – of your data. In turn, this will improve your ability to determine whether your sample selection is as diverse as you wish.
Holding basic donor data can improve your research quality
‘Why are 90% of the samples used in this experiment taken from female donors?’
A different customer this time but an equally valid observation. They were unable to hold even the most basic clinical data against their samples in their current system. Once we imported this into Achiever Medical, they were immediately able to see donor gender and other characteristics for each sample. This meant that when they were searching for samples, they could compare information before choosing to include or exclude.
Even if you only have visibility of basic clinical data against a sample, such as gender and age, this will help you to assess whether your sample selection really is as extensive as you think. Naturally, if your research should only include females within a defined age range then having this data is essential. However, if your research should include samples from both female and male donors, being able to quickly and easily assess sample variety will help you consciously remove any obvious bias. Sophisticated laboratory information and sample management systems offer this level of functionality.
And some systems allow you to enhance this data further with disease, diagnosis and treatment information. This not only allows you to focus your sample selection using very select criteria but also check for diversity.
Introducing processes to help you ensure sample quality
When choosing samples for use in research you need to be confident in their quality. You also need to be sure that they have been managed and processed using your standard workflows and methods.
Laboratory information and sample management systems can help you to standardise and streamline your processes. These systems can prompt you to complete the next step in the process. They also make sure you capture critical information at the right time. The systems often audit these steps. All of this helps to improve the quality of your data – and inevitably your samples. Plus, it gives you an audit trail for your research and activity.
In addition, advanced laboratory sample management software systems can provide additional benefits including dashboards, automated alerts and notifications. You can use these during your sample processing to check progress as well as highlight any potential issues and non-compliance.
When you are selecting samples to use you can ignore those flagged as non-compliant.
A little known benefit of sample management software is the ability to check sample quality
Laboratory sample management systems don’t just help you search for samples for use in research. They also help make sure that how you process, store and obtain samples complies with the relevant procedures and legislation. And you can do periodic checks to make sure that you are meeting these standards with the results recorded.
However, when you are choosing teams, labs, samples or storage facilities to include in an audit, are you selecting those you think you might have organised better than others? No-one enjoys an audit but laboratory sample management systems, like Achiever Medical, can help you proactively manage your audits. Achiever Medical’s auditing and quality assurance module allows you to randomly select samples and storage. And you can make sure that you have not audited them before or for a defined period. This helps to improve the quality of all your samples across your organisation – not just one section.
Not forgetting consent
When selecting human biological samples you must make sure you have the appropriate consent in place. This is not just an ethical requirement but a legal one in the UK. Laboratory sample management systems, like Achiever Medical, record consent and opt-in/out details. Any donors with withdrawn consent are automatically excluded from search results. Plus, you can exclude those with specific consent opt-outs using sophisticated – yet simple – search filters.
A final thought on the benefits of sample management software in research sample selection
In summary, laboratory sample management systems can give you the tools to maximise your sample diversity and appropriateness to improve and support your research. And to help increase the validity of research findings by helping improve sample quality and consistency in processing. They can also help to proactively manage your SOPs and audits to evidence best practice, further supporting those findings.
Naturally, software systems can only do so much and internal training and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are still very much required and integral. However, where software can help is by improving visibility of samples and their associated metadata, providing guidance to users when carrying out processes and displaying any non-compliance issues to lab managers that will inform training and assistance needs.