An academic laboratory performs several tasks that are difficult to manage manually. Automation has led to a revolution in laboratory workflows and practices. It has resulted in the analysis or study of an increased number of samples, eventually leading to increased procedures and generated data. This also demanded a shift in data management practices as data storage and tracking became more complex due to increased data volumes. This challenge created the need for a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) for managing samples, analytical data, documents, and laboratory operations.
A LIMS can streamline experimental workflows, automate laboratory procedures, and ease the management of data, materials, and protocols in academic laboratories. The data is usually collected separately in academic research laboratories and so is stored at different locations. A LIMS enables researchers to store all kinds of data in a single platform that is easily accessible and retrievable.
Today, many large and small organizations use LIMS to manage their laboratory data and automate processes. It is considered an invaluable and necessary tool in commercial laboratories. However, a LIMS is still rarely used in academic laboratories and is undervalued. Earlier, small amounts of data were produced by academic laboratories that could easily be managed by spreadsheets or paper-based systems. However, with the advent of new technologies and countless datasets generated per day, there is an urgent need for LIMS in academic laboratories.
Role of a LIMS in Academic Laboratories
1. Access to Information
The most immediate benefit of a LIMS to an academic laboratory is access to information. Academic laboratories face issues related to data storage. Raw data is managed in notebooks and sometimes in spreadsheets with arcane file names saved in concealed computer folders. It is sometimes difficult for one person to get information or data from another’s experiments without permission or help from others hindering collaboration. A LIMS can be of great benefit to academic laboratories because it prevents documentation chaos by reducing duplication and storing information in a common database that can be accessed by all authorized individuals.
2. Easy Data Access with No Data Loss
A lot of time and effort is spent on generating and analyzing ever-increasing amounts of data in an academic laboratory, and safeguarding it is another challenge. Academic laboratories still have a common practice of storing data across different storage devices, such as hard disks, pen drives, personal computers. If there is no information about the data stored in a given location, the data that could be invaluable becomes useless. Therefore, it is important to store data in a known location and have a foolproof backup mechanism to restore the data whenever required. A LIMS ensures that data is stored in a known location, and backups are regularly taken to prevent data loss.
Academic laboratories also face a common challenge of obstruction to data access. Academic laboratories face this challenge because the data is stored in dozens of notebooks, no record is maintained for routine data, and original data becomes hard to access for new calculations. LIMS deployment works as an effective solution to overcome these challenges. Raw data from heterogeneous sources is compiled in a database, allowing easy and quick data access to authorized laboratory personnel.
3. Facilitates Collaborations Among Researchers
Increasing collaborations between research groups across different geographical locations necessitate a smooth and secure flow of data and information between these groups. A LIMS software fosters collaboration among researchers by enabling secure sharing of data. A LIMS also facilitates data exchange through email, allowing data access to external collaborators.
The application of LIMS in an academic laboratory ensures that all raw data generated from measuring and analytical instruments, processed data, and analyzed data is easily accessible, interpretable, non-duplicate, and reproducible.
A few ways in which a LIMS can help manage academic laboratories are as follows:
1. Manages Oligonucleotides
Many academic laboratories order or make hundreds of DNA or RNA primers, probes, plasmids, and other oligonucleotides. It is challenging to retain a record of all locations where these oligonucleotides are stored. Furthermore, manually documenting the sequences of all oligos is tedious and error-prone. A LIMS serves as an excellent solution to such data management problems. A LIMS is a single, centralized system that helps assign storage locations to oligonucleotides and track them, manage the oligonucleotide sequences, and record all pertinent data.
2. Manages Organism Strains
A strain is a genetic variant or subtype of an organism, for example, bacterium, fungus, mouse, plants, and are used in laboratory experiments. Microbiological strains help in analyzing microbiomes. Similarly, animal strains, such as mouse or rat strains, help in studying various disease models and test drug toxicity. You can secure your expensive and valuable investment in organism strains through the use of a LIMS. Being one of the most important and expensive resources of academic laboratories, it is vital to manage strains efficiently. A LIMS manages information such as genotype or strain background of different types of organisms. Furthermore, it also helps manage and track the storage location of organism strains and documents related to the strains.
3. Manages Laboratory Inventory
All laboratory experiments require reagents and consumable supplies, such as beakers, funnels, test tubes, pipettes, centrifuge tubes. A LIMS helps your laboratory to properly manage reagents and consumable supplies so that you are always stocked-up and can easily access them as and when needed. A LIMS manages and tracks inventory items that are on order, available for use, reserved, close to expiration, or have already expired. Additionally, it automatically updates the number of inventory items available based on their use in experiments. A LIMS alerts lab managers before the expiration or depletion of inventory items so that they are ordered and replenished on time, preventing any disruption of routine tasks, thereby saving money and time.
4. Manages Laboratory Equipment and Instruments
It is necessary for an academic laboratory to maintain and calibrate its equipment on time to ensure its smooth functioning. Equipment purchase is probably one of the largest investments that all laboratories make. It is important to take care of your laboratory instruments and ensure their timely calibration and maintenance to generate error-free, valid, and reliable results.
A LIMS helps academic laboratories manage equipment in the following ways:
- Storing installation information
- Maintaining calibration and maintenance data
- Scheduling calibration or maintenance and alerting lab managers before the due date
- Storing log files
- Tracking instrument performance
A LIMS can also be integrated with analytical equipment to facilitate automatic transfer of data, eliminating the need to manually enter data, thereby saving time and maintaining data integrity.
The management of an academic laboratory is not an easy task. There is a demanding need for careful tracking of everything in an academic laboratory, from oligonucleotides, to reagents and expensive instruments used to perform experiments. The implementation of a LIMS enables efficient and successful management of an academic laboratory. It not only assures the quality of samples and test results but also enhances lab productivity by preventing data loss, reducing turnaround time, providing an easy flow of information, seamless collaboration and allowing quick data access.