In an earlier blog post, I introduced you to the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study, one of the largest longitudinal population health studies ever performed.
Launched on a relatively small scale back in 1984, the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (called “HUNT” for short) has evolved over the years into a unique, integrated family and personal database that now includes about 120,000 people from Nord-Trøndelag County, Norway. As a result, HUNT offers valuable insights into the progression of a wide range of diseases, particularly in relation to quality of life measures such as environment, education and occupation.
When HUNT began, its database consisted of a conglomeration of data saved in various basic file types, such as Excel spreadsheets, csv (comma separated value), text, etc. All of these files required long hours of manual capture, calculation and veriﬁcation – and, as you can imagine, this process became progressively more challenging as HUNT grew in scale and scope.
Realizing that traditional methods for collation, storage and administration would be inadequate for a project of this size, HUNT researchers added a laboratory information management system (LIMS) in 2005.
In Part 1 of this two-part series, I discussed how HUNT’s LIMS offers adaptability, enhanced searchability and improved security and compliance. The benefits don’t stop there, however. HUNT’s LIMS also provides:
- More streamlined workflow. Because the LIMS enables the HUNT Biobank team to quickly and easily log samples each morning, days get off to a faster start. The difference of a few minutes here or there may seem relatively inconsequential, but for biobanks of this size, incremental process improvements can have a dramatic impact. For example, the HUNT laboratory receives approximately 800-1,000 samples each day, ﬁve days a week. This includes five distinctly categorized blood samples and one urine sample from each participant. Saliva samples are also taken from young people aged 13-18, who participate in a special “youth” element of the study where no blood samples are required. At this scale, shaving even a few seconds off per sample can really add up to a significant improvement in laboratory workflow!
- Better data management. The HUNT LIMS provides automated clinical follow-up, data handling and quality control following data collection and distributes coded data ﬁles to various research groups.
- Easier integration and cross-referencing with other registries. As explained at the HUNT study website, the data collected is reinforced and supplemented by cross-referencing at the regional level, with registries for radial and hip fractures, venous thrombosis, lung embolism, ischemic heart disease and stroke; at the national level with The Cancer Register, The Medical Birth Register and The National Health Insurance Register; and at the international level. In addition, Statistics Norway provides necessary information from The Population Census Register and The Family Register to create a genealogical database (widely known as “family trees”).
- Reduction in total cost of ownership (TCO). By improving efficiency and data reliability and automating processes, the LIMS system has cut HUNT’s costs and enabled management to make more informed decisions faster than ever.
Even though doctors and scientists largely understand how the human body works, considerably less is known about how lifestyle and the environment affect human health. As one of the largest longitudinal population health studies ever performed, HUNT hopes to shed light on those issues, while answering one of the most pressing concerns of the 21st century: How can modern medicine improve our daily lives?
A LIMS may not DO the research, but it is becoming an indispensible part of accelerating discovery by bringing greater speed and efficiency to biobanking. HUNT is just the latest example of how a LIMS unleashes the true potential of biobanking by unlocking insights that have for too long remained hidden beneath paper and manual processes.