Most labs now rely on digitized laboratory information management systems (LIMS) rather than handwritten labelling and physical logging, although some degree of manual information management remains common; in addition Excel files storing information is still commonplace. Unfortunately, managing your samples like this can open the door to loss of irreplaceable samples and a lack of data traceability simply due to human error. Simple mistakes at any stage of the sample management chain can have catastrophic results, and though that may sound dramatic, here we will show a believable worst-case scenario of what could happen when samples are mis-labelled.
Drawbacks of Sample Management—A Case Study
In this case study of a lab without an effective LIMS sample management solution in place, we begin with an important sample being incorrectly labelled because of human error. This sample would likely be stored incorrectly—potentially under cryogenic conditions. As the sample tube and cap are not designed for cryogenic conditions, they will gradually leak, and material will be lost. The lack of an appropriate seal also means that any sample retained in the tube is liable to be cross-contaminated and become unusable.
However, as the label is incorrect, the analyst is unlikely to notice and will continue using the sample in subsequent experiments. This leads to false-positive results for experiments. Owing to the apparent success of the experiment, the sample is used repeatedly for subsequent analyses, but the manual label gradually becomes illegible. For all intents and purposes, the sample is now missing, and the analyst may attempt to locate it by defrosting other cryogenic racks—potentially affecting the viability of any samples contained within.
Read More: What is Sample Management?
This is a worst-case scenario of what can happen when an effective sample management solution is not in place. But it is not dramatized, nor unrealistic. In the 1990s, the Fort Detrick U.S. Army research lab was derided for its inadequate sample management system when 27 sets of extremely dangerous specimens were reported missing. These including AIDS virus, anthrax spores, Ebola, hanta virus, and other samples simply labelled “unknown”. Most of these samples were never seen again, and a further enquiry found evidence of deliberate tampering and covert research.
Benefits of an Effective Sample Management Strategy
A robust sample management system can ensure that your samples are secured safely in the correct environment and can minimize the risk of samples becoming compromised. Barcode labels and scanners significantly reduce the time taken to input sample information and increase the accuracy of data entry. They can also reduce friction when multiple researchers are handling samples before and after analysis, eliminating the risk of labels degrading and becoming difficult to read. If you would like to learn more about building an effective sample management strategy, why not contact a member of the Ziath team today?