What is Sample Management?
Sample management refers to an individual laboratory workflow that comprises sample selection, appropriate storage, and efficient retrieval of viable samples. This workflow also includes sample inventory management, storage, and retrieval of relevant data regarding all consumables, such as reagents.
Whatever field of life sciences your research team is involved in, be it pharma, healthcare, or biobanking, it’s vital to achieve an optimally streamlined sample management system to ensure a high level of quality control, prevent loss or over-ordering of clinical samples, and easily facilitate an audit trail.
In this article, we will review the best practices for the management of sample integrity to help you keep your lab safe, productive, and efficient.
The Importance of Sample Management
The quality of your samples determines the quality of your work. This should be one of your mantras. The validity of your laboratory research is dependent upon effective sample management. This itself determines aspects of your sample management workflow. For example, if you are not collecting, labeling, and storing your sample correctly, valuable data could soon be compromised.
These days, most modern labs have done away with handwritten labeling, result recording, and data logging. Savvy lab managers use barcode labeling and have already implemented an electronic laboratory information management system (LIMS). Managing samples in this way not only prevents human error but also guarantees traceability and eliminates data loss.
When you digitize the steps in the sample management chain, simple mistakes are easily avoided. When errors do occur, they can be easily spotted and rectified before they move further along the chain and become catastrophic.
Sample Management Best Practices
Following sample management best practices will save your lab time and money. They can assist in keeping your lab organized, separating and storing samples properly, and much more.
Keep Freezers Organized
Samples come and go relatively quickly particularly if you are involved in clinical trials. Having a system for sample movement to and from the freezer can help avoid confusion or misplaced samples. It also helps your techs find samples quickly and reduce wastage due to unnecessary thawing by minimizing the length of time freezer doors are kept open. You can organize your freezer in the following ways:
- Manage inventory: An inventory management plan is key to maintaining the viability of your samples throughout their lifecycle. Ditching Excel spreadsheets and using software designed specifically for this purpose will make your data management much easier. From sample collection to testing you will be able to keep track.
- Maintain safety protocols: Safety is a key factor in sample storage. Samples that are volatile or dangerous should be stored separately away from other agents they may react with.
- Keep similar samples together: Your freezer should be organized in such a way that samples should be placed next to similar agents for easy access. For example, all enzymes should be allocated a shared space.
- Think temperature sensitivity: Find out the temperature zones in your refrigeration system and the temperature-sensitive items stored in it. Bear in mind that because the door is opened and closed frequently, items stored on the freezer arm can be at risk as this is the warmest part of the freezer.
- Keep labels visible: Visibility is a must for freezer organization. This will prevent tech from having to remove items in order to see other items. Use freezer bins or if you have room, turntables.
Standardization will benefit your lab by means of improved efficiency and quality as well as reduced errors. When all your research groups use the same processes when logging and handling samples, they can also share the same testing protocols and best practices. Create and maintain standardized processes for the collection, storage, retrieval, and sample processing. You can do this by:
- Analyze samples quickly on arrival
- Store samples in correctly sized containers
- Arrange containers in storage racks
- Make sure every sample is traceable throughout its life cycle
As a lab manager, you have an ethical responsibility to protect your sample, particularly if you are running a medical laboratory, where privacy is a paramount concern. There are other advantages to limiting which team members have access to samples, including:
- Reducing the risk of contamination
- Maintaining a clear chain of custody
- Facilitating inventory management
- Improving lab safety
- Eliminating lost or wasted samples
Invest in Sample Management Software
The quantity of samples that pass through a lab in any given month is incredible, and as your lab grows, so will your need for a more reliable system for managing samples. The solution is simple and elegant: sample management software. The benefits are numerous and include:
- Boosting efficiency
- Improving lab workflows
- Optimizing test processes
- Reducing errors
- Enabling sample tracking
Sample management software will save you time and money in the long run. Make sure that you choose a software solution your team can count on.
Additional Tips and Tricks
In addition to the above sample management tips, it can be beneficial to implement other best practices such as:
- Capture data immediately: All sample information should be logged into your LIMS as soon as the sample is received. This will keep your inventory up to date and prevent errors later. It also means that your lab team members have access to the full sample data as soon as it becomes available.
- Use appropriate labeling: This is crucial so that lab samples don’t get mixed up, potentially causing serious safety problems. Using printed labels for all your samples will prevent lab techs from misreading handwritten labels and confusing samples. Labels should contain the following information:
- Date the sample was taken
- Collection date and time
- Sample type and source
- Patient name (if applicable)
- Test required
- Any special sample handling needed
- Ordering physician (if applicable)
- Process aliquots: An aliquot is a portion extracted from an original sample by chemical processes. Sample aliquoting is used in the lab to represent a large sample without the need to use the original sample, so it can be preserved.
- Implement proper storage: All samples must be stored at the appropriate temperature for future use. This means you must have a freezer that can handle your samples and each sample must be kept in an appropriate position in cold storage.
- Track inventory: An important part of maintaining sample quality is knowing how much you have of each sample and where it is stored. Inventory management software helps you to keep all your reagents (cell freezes, antibodies, plasmids, etc.) organized within the freezers so that lab techs can find and share their exact location.
Optimize Sample Management with Genemod
If you haven’t already implemented a sample inventory management system in your lab, Genemod has the perfect solution. Our sample management solution allows you to create a virtual freezer that corresponds to your actual storage space so that you and your team can see exactly what samples you have and where they are located. It has the following features:
- Advanced search so you can find samples faster
- Facilitates easy data import from Excel
- Enables full data entry and compliance across your lab team