Working With LIMS: Key Aspects of a Laboratory Information Management System

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Laboratory Information Management Systems, also known as LIMS, are now being employed across the globe for the management of biobanks and other testing facilities. Since their introduction, the systems have been used to support and streamline laboratory operations, from specimen collection to distribution and even disposal, ultimately helping laboratory technicians carry out their daily procedures.

Functions and Features of a LIMS

If we were to find a comparison to a Laboratory Information Management Systems, then we could say that they are the equivalent of a data management system, used primarily to streamline and simplify processes within an organization.

In today’s technology-advanced world, Research and Development companies (or departments of companies) rely on specific software applications like LIMS to manage a variety of processes, including:

  • Research and specimen collection and analysis
  • Development and discovery
  • Testing the products manufactured by the organization

LIMS are widely used by organizations specialized in research and development (R&D) like universities, biobanks, clinical research facilities and contract research organizations (CRO’s). While LIMS systems are user-friendly and designed to guarantee an enhanced user experience, training is also available for researchers and technicians who want to learn more about the world of Laboratory Information Management Systems.

The International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER) has published a guide illustrating the best practices and recommendations for biobank facilities, titled ISBER Best Practices: Recommendations for Repositories Fourth Edition. Thanks to the guide and the self-assessment tool provided by the ISBER, laboratories and biobank facilities can evaluate how well they comply with the best practices and whether any of their facilities and processes could be improved. All personnel working in a biobanking facility or laboratory should be familiar with ISBER Best Practices, as they promote the availability of high-quality biological and environmental specimens for future research. While following the Best Practices isn’t a mandatory requirement, these guidelines help biorepositories comply with regulatory rules and accreditation requirements. If you’re interested to learn more about the ISBER Best Practices, a 4th edition is now available for download on their website.

In a recent webinar, industry leading providers of specialist LIMS systems, Autoscribe Informatics explained how the Matrix Gemini Biobank Manager configuration addresses the recommendations from ISBER, offering an insight on how the use of LIMS can improve the performance of biobank facilities.

A day in the life of a laboratory technician

Laboratory technicians have the responsibility to carry out experiments and procedures to support ongoing research projects. An average day for a laboratory technician would start at 9 am with due diligence routine checks of tools and devices. Business as usual would normally encompass a range of different tasks and activities, although most of their time would be spent performing experiments and research for a variety of different applications and industries, from the food industry to medical.

Quality control and management is where a laboratory technician will spend most of their time, as any variation in the quality of a biospecimen could negatively affect the results of the research or experiment. This is arguably the biggest challenge for laboratories and biobanking facilities and having a reliable quality management system is the only way to preserve biospecimen quality.

Some of the tools for Quality Assurance (QA) and Quality Control (QC) that a laboratory technician will need to use on a regular basis are barcodes for biospecimen identification, location tracking for biospecimens and compliance verification tools. A very good case study to look at to understand how a LIMS like the Matrix Gemini Biobank Manager can help streamline and simplify processes for laboratory technicians is the “BioResource Centre Uses Matrix Gemini LIMS Within Its Biorepository”. Published by Autoscribe Informatics to break down the characteristics of their Matrix Gemini system, the case study explains how Guy's and St Thomas' BioResource (part of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London) uses the Matrix Gemini LIMS to track all samples within the biorepository, allowing a more efficient use of storage space and enhanced quality control.

Thanks to the use of a specific LIMS, laboratory technicians at the St Thomas' BioResource were able to automate the biorepository management process with full sample tracking and storage and Chain-of-custody reporting, as per regulatory requirements.

Working With LIMS – From Training to Practice

There are many training options available to candidates looking to work with LIMS, most of which are heavily focused on the ISBER requirements.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in the Biotech industry, then being familiar with the best practices for the efficient management of a biobanking facility will make you stand out to potential biobanking employers. To prepare yourself for a role in the industry, there are two fundamental steps to take; the first is to research current openings and the second is to transfer your knowledge on LIMS from training to practice.

The Biotech Careers site is a great place to start in order to learn more not only about the industry, but also about what employers are looking for. Here are a few great examples of employers’ overviews that will help you gain a better understanding of the market expectations and current competition.

Now onto the next step, transferring what you learnt during training into practical skills. Before beginning to use a LIMS, it’s essential to understand the basics of each requirement and there are several modules that will help with the efficient management of a biobank facility, including:

  • Environmental monitoring module
  • Instrument calibration and measurement module
  • Competency tracking module
  • Corrective and preventative action module

Matrix Gemini LIMS is a user-friendly system with configuration tools that can reflect the precise workflows required by the individual biorepository. The system follows the ISBER requirements, offering different levels of accesses for different user groups; depending on the type of access, the following features can be used.

Storing samples

This is the first stage of most LIMS, allowing users to register and store the samples received by the biobank. The system can categorize each sample and allocate it to a particular study, specifying the types and quantities of samples received. The next step is to allocate the samples to the correct storage location; LIMS users can create a prototype “hierarchy” for sample storage to prevent erroneous location allocation within the software. Every step within the sample storing process is recorded in the database, providing a full chain of custody.

Removing and transferring samples

Samples may also be needed in several studies, so LIMS offer users the possibility to transfer them easily and safely from one location to another within the biobank. The system also makes it possible to transfer samples from one biobank facility to another by creating a “pull list” which identifies the samples required and their location. Users simply need to upload the shipping information and full details of the new destination so that the sample’s transfer can be fully tracked.

Samples that have been transferred between locations may also be transferred back to their original biobank facility, so it’s important that a trail of actions is always kept while the sample is at its new location.

“Ad-hoc” queries

LIMS are extremely user-friendly, specifically designed to streamline processes and simplify daily operations. Features like color coding are used extensively within the system to easily identify the status of any sample.

To follow ISBER Best Practices, it’s also crucial to offer an Ad-Hoc query feature. This is widely used to create unique queries for sample searching using several different filters. Once the filters have been applied, users are able to view the entire history of the samples and, if necessary, create pull lists for any samples that need to be subject to further studies.

LIMS have advanced the way in which laboratories and testing facilities manage large volumes of data; with no custom coding required, Autoscribe Informatics solutions ensure an exact fit to customer requirements for a broad range of laboratories and processes.

Dani Pisciottano, article commissioned by Autoscribe Informatics