If you’re one of the many labs or Biobanks whose operations have been temporarily halted or repurposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, then you may be wondering how you’re going to get going again. ‘Normality’, whatever that means, will soon kick back in. And those notorious, life-threatening diseases that you’ve long been helping to research will still, unfortunately, be with us. They haven’t taken a break.
After what seems like an everlasting pause the world is slowly starting to open up again. And when it does your Biobank needs to be ready to provide researchers with the samples they need – safely and promptly. So, how can you make sure your lab or Biobank is poised and ready to mobilise when called?
Have you reviewed and implemented COVID-19 safety measures?
First things first you want to make sure your team is as safe as possible. The UK government is regularly updating its advice as more is understood about the disease.
The latest UK government guidelines and advice on helping your team stay safe can be found at ‘Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19)’.
If it’s quiet in your lab or Biobank at the moment, why not use this opportunity to carry out your own lab audit.
Most labs and Biobanks only carry out audits as part of formal inspections. Carrying out your own internal audits helps ensure you’re:
- Maximising your storage space which will help save you money and resource
- Correctly preparing and storing your samples in line with your Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to improve consistency, efficiency and quality
- Aware of what samples you have available so you can update your published sample holdings and source any additional samples
- Better prepared for any formal inspections.
As part of your internal lab audit you can check your samples are where you think they are as well as check what’s currently in your freezers. You can also make sure you’re appropriately labelling and accurately recording samples in spreadsheets and software systems.
This will also give you a prime opportunity to identify samples that have been in your freezers for a long time. You can then plan what to do with them to make sure they are used if possible or destroyed if no longer viable.
You should take time to record what you have completed along with any outcomes and corrective measures. This will not only help you improve but also gives you evidence for any future formal audits.
Review your lab processes
How often do you review how you receive, store, handle and dispatch your samples?
Most organisations only do this when something goes wrong. But things change all the time. So why not take this opportunity to delve into your workflows to see if you’re really working as efficiently as you could be.
Map each of your processes including highlighting touchpoints with other teams and all your outputs such as emails, reports and so on.
Make sure you get input from your team. It’s still possible to do this with your team even if you’re all working remotely. And while you’re there make sure you review all the systems you use to process samples and record data.
Publicise your Biobank
It might not seem like it, but other non-COVID-19 research is still taking place. Make sure researchers are aware of you and what you provide. And importantly at this time, make sure they know that you’re still open for business if indeed you are.
Also, take a look through your historical sample requests. Review how you currently receive requests, how many you get each week, how many you fulfil, how long it takes you on average and how many can’t you fulfil and why.
See if there are any trends or patterns and if certain types of samples are required more than others. Or if you find that only a small number of researchers are repeat requesters then try to find out why. You might discover it’s better focusing on meeting the needs of a small number of researchers rather than hundreds.
By analysing this information, in conjunction with the samples you currently have in stock, you could identify improvements not only in what you offer but also how and where you publicise your Biobank.
Take a look at your supporting software systems
Are your software systems helping or hindering you?
When reviewing your processes if you find you’re duplicating data or it’s difficult to keep track of your samples then you may want to consider a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS).
Now might be an ideal time to look at what you do, how you do it and where your pain points are. You can then use your findings as a catalyst to update your existing systems. Or even as a requirements specification for some new software.
With many LIMS providers offering online demonstrations you could safely take a look at what’s available and if it can support your processes.
You may think that it’s not the right time to implement a new system. But it might be easier than you think, and some systems can be implemented in weeks. Also, they can be implemented remotely with no face-to-face interactions required. Plus, you may have the time and space to learn a new system whilst it’s a little quieter.
Cloud-based LIMS, like Achiever Medical come with prebuilt workflows and dashboards allowing them to be implemented in a couple of weeks. And you’re not painting yourself into a corner as the software is configurable and has optional modules so you can change, extend and evolve it to meet new requirements.
A final thought about reinvigorating your lab or Biobank
At the moment it feels like someone has pressed a very large pause button. Things have changed overnight. But things will return to ‘normal’. Those familiar, deadly diseases that have plagued us for many years still need defeating. Research will continue and you need to be ready to help.
Why not take this short break in proceedings to make sure that your lab or Biobank emerges stronger? Take time to reinvigorate your lab or Biobank to deliver quality samples that will help improve research outcomes and ‘Make Every Sample Matter’.