As you might imagine, we deal with a lot of lab technicians, research associates, scientists, post docs, lab managers, supervisor and yes, even directors who have to deal either directly or indirectly with sample identification. Over the years, we’ve collected a laundry list of issues they mention with labeling the collections tubes.
So we thought, we’d share the five biggest issues with sample identification so you can solve them before they happen!
1. Volume and throughput.
This is by far the biggest issue we see with sample identification. Even with the increased use of microplates and microarrays, labeling of individual tubes continues to grows as life science research grows and new diagnostic tests are introduced. Whether it’s an “all hands on deck labeling party” or just the daily routine of an individual researcher preparing for an experiment, countless hours of highly educated labor are wasted identifying samples. It is not unusual for the combined time spent labeling tubes to add up to the equivalent of multiple full-time employees. Automated labeling and printing systems can free valuable labor for higher return tasks as well as eliminate crippling bottlenecks in key processes like sample identification.
2. Small tube size.
The expanded use of molecular techniques such as PCR in both the research lab and clinical testing has resulted in smaller and smaller labware. For example, writing on the curved side of a 0.2ml PCR tube is not only difficult but ergonomically painful after about 20 tubes. Carefully applying an adhesive label to a 2ml screw cap tube with gloves on is no easy task either. I can still hear that snapping of latex from my days in the lab.
Being left-handed, my handwriting has always been terrible and I am sure everyone else’s is getting worse the more we text and type. There is inherent variability in quality, orientation and throughput associated with handwriting on tubes resulting in misidentified samples and inhibiting the ability of a lab to scale it’s operation. Huge issue with sample identification down the line! While not all automated systems have higher throughput than performing the task manually, automated systems always improve consistency of a task and reduce variability.
In most life science applications, durability of the sample identification method to extreme temperatures tends to be most critical environmental concern since many biological samples are stored for long period of time at cold temperatures (-80C and liquid nitrogen) to avoid sample degradation. Anyone who has worked in a lab, has probably pulled a sample from a -80C freezer only to find the adhesive label has fallen off the tube. Solvent resistance tends to be most critical for analytical chemistry and anatomical pathology applications when organic solvents such as acetonitrile, xylene, and DMSO are commonly used.
For a few samples, a simple handwritten entry in the researcher’s lab notebook will suffice. Larger numbers of samples necessitate a move to an Excel spreadsheet where any lab member can access the spreadsheet to find specific properties about the sample. Even larger numbers mean implementation of a true database or LIMS (laboratory information management system) where information can be accessed across multiple labs, departments and worldwide locations.
While this list is by no means a comprehensive, we know from talking to you that these are the five biggest issues with specimen identification. Please feel free to comment with any other specimen identification issues you encounter.