Integrating Latest Technology with Laboratory Software for Freezer and Biorepository Tracking to Transform Biospecimen Procurement

Biospecimens, the raw materials of medical research, help unlock the mysteries of diseases, aid in the refinement of treatments, and pave the way for personalized healthcare solutions. In 2021, the biospecimen procurement market boasted a substantial worth of $52 million, with projections pointing towards a robust compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16% in the foreseeable future. This figure underscores the role of biospecimens in driving medical breakthroughs. More importantly, it signals a growing demand for innovative procurement approaches. In this blog, we delve into how advancements such as automation, artificial intelligence, informatics systems, and more, are reshaping biospecimen procurement. We explore how technology is dismantling barriers and propelling biomedical research forward.

Challenges in Biospecimen Procurement

Traditional biospecimen procurement methods have long grappled with a myriad of challenges, spanning logistical complexities, ethical considerations, and limitations in sample diversity and quality. One of the foremost concerns revolves around the integrity of collected samples, as factors such as improper handling, storage conditions, and contamination risks can compromise their quality and reliability. Additionally, the scalability of traditional procurement methods often proves inadequate to meet the growing demands of researchers, leading to delays and inefficiencies in sample acquisition. Furthermore, access to a diverse range of specimens remains a persistent issue, with disparities in availability across demographics, geographic regions, and disease populations. However, in recent years, a wave of technological innovations has surged through the field, promising to transform traditional approaches and usher in an era of enhanced efficiency, reliability, and accessibility. Addressing the challenges requires a paradigm shift in how biospecimens are sourced, processed, and utilized—a shift that hinges on embracing innovative technologies and transformative approaches to procurement. 

How Emerging Technologies and Approaches Can Help Overcome the Challenges in Biospecimen Procurement

Advanced technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence are spearheading a shift in how biospecimens are sourced, processed, and utilized in medical research. These innovative solutions tackle pressing issues like sample contamination, reproducibility, and standardization head-on, offering unprecedented levels of precision, efficiency, and reliability.

  1. Automation and LIMS: Automation streamlines the crucial steps of sample accessioning, processing, and storage, mitigating the risk of human error and enhancing overall efficiency. By automating routine tasks such as sample labeling and tracking of samples and freezers, automation frees up valuable time and resources. A laboratory software for freezer and biorepository tracking, also known as a  Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), can automate and streamline biobanking processes. LIMS software tracks biospecimen data, optimizes usage of available space in freezers, and ensures regulatory compliance, empowering researchers with comprehensive oversight and control over their sample repositories.

    Automation, coupled with LIMS, allows for the standardization of biospecimen procurement protocols and procedures, ensuring consistency in specimen handling across different projects, biobanks, or research studies, thereby improving data quality. Furthermore, a LIMS facilitates seamless integration with other laboratory systems and data sources, such as electronic health records (EHRs), patient registries, or research databases. This integration enables researchers to correlate biospecimen data with clinical or experimental data, supporting fit-for-purpose biospecimen procurement.

  2. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML): AI and ML algorithms are transforming biospecimen procurement by optimizing the selection and characterization processes. Leveraging the capability to analyze vast volumes of data, including patient records and genetic information, AI algorithms can identify potential donors and match them with specific research needs with unprecedented accuracy and efficiency. These algorithms also automate the classification and sorting of biospecimens based on various criteria, such as disease type or genetic profile, streamlining the procurement process and facilitating targeted research initiatives. The integration of AI & ML with LIMS further enhances efficiency by seamlessly integrating data-driven insights into biospecimen management, ensuring that the right specimens are procured and utilized for research purposes.
  3. Blockchain: Provenance information, including sample processing history, donor demographics and medical history, and geographic origin, significantly influence research outcomes and interpretations. Unfortunately, obtaining comprehensive provenance details can be challenging, particularly for industry scientists who often rely on commercial brokers to source biospecimens. This lack of transparency compromises research integrity and poses ethical and legal concerns. Blockchain technology is a decentralized and immutable ledger system that offers a solution to the provenance dilemma in biospecimen procurement, enabling transparent and tamper-proof record-keeping, and fostering trust and collaboration while ensuring data integrity. With blockchain, researchers can securely and transparently trace the entire lifecycle of biospecimens, from collection to utilization, ensuring data integrity, authenticity, and accessibility. Blockchain enables the recording of every transaction and event associated with a biospecimen.

    By integrating blockchain with LIMS, researchers can ensure transparent tracking of biospecimen lifecycles, bolstering data integrity, authenticity, and accessibility. This integration enables secure recording of all transactions and events associated with biospecimens, fostering trust, collaboration, and adherence to ethical and legal standards throughout the procurement process.

  4. Biospecimen Marketplaces: Biospecimen marketplaces hold the promise of transforming biospecimen procurement by providing a streamlined and efficient platform for matching specimen supply with demand. Currently, the biospecimen market remains fragmented, with healthcare organizations possessing biospecimens unsure of which researchers need them, and researchers uncertain about which suppliers can provide the required specimens. This disconnect often results in time-consuming searches through various channels or reliance on familiar partners. However, a technology-driven solution, akin to modern biospecimen marketplaces, could transform this landscape into a unified global biobank accessible through a single online marketplace. Such a marketplace would feature robust search functionality, allowing researchers to discover banked specimens and prospective patient records with ease. Automation of key procurement workflows would integrate seamlessly into researcher and supplier environments, simplifying processes from feasibility assessment to ordering and fulfillment.

Integrating a LIMS with biospecimen marketplaces can significantly support biospecimen procurement processes in multiple ways:

  • Streamlined Ordering: The integration allows researchers to directly access biospecimen marketplaces from within the LIMS interface. This streamlines the procurement process by enabling seamless browsing, selection, and ordering of biospecimens without needing to switch between multiple systems.
  • Real-time Inventory Updates: The integration enables automatic synchronization of biospecimen marketplace inventory data with the LIMS. This provides researchers with up-to-date information on available specimens, quantities, and associated metadata, ensuring accurate selection and procurement. Furthermore, a LIMS optimizes workflow efficiency by providing sample location data, minimizing the need for repeated physical searches within freezers, thus minimizing temperature fluctuations and preserving sample integrity.
  • Automated Data Capture: LIMS integration automates the capture of relevant data associated with procured biospecimens. Information such as donor demographics, specimen characteristics, and procurement details can be seamlessly transferred from the marketplace to the LIMS, minimizing manual data entry errors and saving time.
  • Quality Control: Integrated LIMS can facilitate quality control checks on procured biospecimens. Upon receipt, specimen data can be automatically compared against predefined criteria and standards within the LIMS, ensuring compliance with research requirements and standards.
  • Reporting and Analysis: Integrated LIMS can generate customized reports and analytics on biospecimen procurement activities. Researchers can analyze procurement trends, track utilization rates, and assess the quality of procured specimens. With reports on temperature monitoring, inventory levels, sample locations, and any relevant metadata, biobankers can monitor freezer performance, enabling informed decision-making and resource optimization.

5. Tools, Technologies, and Strategies for Data Security: Ethical considerations are paramount in biospecimen procurement, with a key focus on ensuring informed consent and protecting participant privacy. Researchers must navigate a complex landscape of regulations and guidelines to uphold ethical standards throughout the procurement process. Strategies for maintaining participant confidentiality while promoting data sharing and collaboration involve implementing robust informed consent procedures, ensuring transparency in data handling practices, and employing encryption and anonymization techniques to safeguard sensitive information. By prioritizing ethical principles and privacy protection measures, researchers can foster trust among participants, uphold research integrity, and facilitate responsible data sharing and collaboration. 

A biobanking LIMS maintains biospecimen data security through various measures such as encryption, access controls, and audit trails. By encrypting data both at rest and in transit, it ensures that sensitive information remains protected from unauthorized access. Access controls limit data access to authorized personnel only, reducing the risk of data breaches. Additionally, audit trails record all activities in a biobank, providing a comprehensive record of who accessed, modified, or deleted data, thus boosting accountability and transparency in operations. These security measures implemented by a LIMS uphold the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of biospecimen data, safeguarding participant privacy and research integrity.

Conclusion

Biospecimen procurement is undergoing a transformation, driven by the integration of advanced technologies and innovative approaches. These advancements not only address longstanding challenges such as sample integrity, scalability, and access but also bring unprecedented levels of efficiency, reliability, and inclusivity to biomedical research. By integrating the latest technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and biospecimen marketplaces with laboratory software for freezer and biorepository tracking, researchers can streamline procurement processes, enhance data integrity, and promote collaboration on a global scale. Moreover, the emphasis on ethical considerations ensures that participant confidentiality and data privacy are prioritized, strengthening trust and transparency.

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