Optimal storage temperatures vary from sample to sample. That means as biobanks grow, researchers must cope with increasing complexity surrounding how each sample type/biospecimen is collected, handled, preserved, stored . . . and transported.
In theory, it’s easy to see why maintaining optimal temperature during sample transport is critical. Every biobanker knows that swings in sample storage temperature can be catastrophic. Short of somehow losing a sample completely, I think we’d all agree that fluctuations in storage temperature (freezing a sample that should be stored refrigerated, thawing a sample that should be stored frozen, etc.) are among the worst problems that can happen.
In practice, however, many biobankers overlook temperature threats when moving samples. They seem content with the “same old-same old” methods of transport, underestimating the impact changes in temperature can have on sample quality and upstream analyses.
Whether you’re moving samples within your biobank or shipping them to another research facility that’s half-way around the world, here are a few of most important questions you need to consider:
When was the last time you took a hard look at the methods you use to transport samples? According to the old adage, necessity is the mother of invention –and perhaps no one knows that better than research scientists. For decades, biobankers have devised homemade solutions for sample transport. But if you’re still relying on old-fashioned methods like the ever-popular “dry ice in a cardboard box,” well, you could be setting yourself up for significant problems down the road. (For example, dry ice can be problematic because it evaporates over time. Plus, it can introduce contaminants, and it must be handled according to established safety guidelines.) Take the time to thoughtfully evaluate the transport methods you’re using now, and update them as needed.
Do you have the right equipment to minimize temperature threats during transport? A variety of different shippers are now available to transport biological samples at constant optimal temperature. These shippers feature a range of capabilities that ensure the highest safety and security of valuable samples –whether you’re moving them down the hall or across oceans. Make sure you optimize safety and security (for your samples and for the people who handle the sample) by choosing the right shipping equipment for the job.
Are you using the proper protocols to minimize temperature threats during transport? Using the best shipping equipment is necessary, but it isn’t sufficient. You also need to be certain you’re following the policies and procedures required for the sample you’re moving. At the most fundamental level, you need to be aware of any regulations and/or special considerations that pertain to the sample(s) being transported. (As you undoubtedly know, a regulated sample requires record-keeping to designate a chain of custody during transport.) Special requirements like these mean minimizing temperature threats during transport needs to be part of every biobank’s comprehensive risk mitigation plan.
Do you have backups in place to alert you to any change in temperature? While we’re on the topic of risk mitigation, let me offer one more recommendation: It’s essential for you to use monitoring systems that can alert you to any problems that arise during transport. To modify another popular adage, when you’re dealing with biospecimen transport, ignorance is not bliss. You need to know if something is going/has gone awry. Once you you’ve been alerted to a problem, you can take steps to rectify it.
How do you get samples “from here to there?” What are the biggest challenges you face when transporting this kind of valuable cargo? Please join the conversation by sharing your comments below.