In research, as in life, there are setbacks, tragedies, and mishaps.
Unforeseen electrical problems, accidental or purposeful human intervention, or extreme weather can all have lasting consequences for your lab’s samples, inventory, data, records, and, ultimately, the pace at which you recover and progress in your research.
Take, for instance, a recent story from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), where a custodial worker, annoyed by an alarm from an ultra low-temperature (ULT) freezer, allegedly flipped a circuit breaker, causing the freezer to heat up to -32℃ from its normal temperature at -80℃.
The consequences were devastating: The destruction of samples collected over 25 years of research and at least $1 million in damages.
Over the past two decades, extreme weather events have also caused massive destruction to research laboratories. During Hurricane Katrina, many ULT freezers lost power, warming to room temperature. At Louisiana State University (LSU), 100% of animals housed in animal facilities were lost. Similar animal deaths were seen at NYU Langone Medical Center, an unfortunate consequence of Hurricane Sandy hitting New York City.
Nothing can reverse the impact of these painful and sad situations.
And while we may never be able to control the weather, there are ways to minimise the impact of the unforeseen events mentioned above.
Future-proofing your lab against disaster relies on digitalisation of lab operations. Here are three considerations for moving your lab towards an “all digital” strategy.
Rebuilding after losing samples, animal models, or data will likely require you and your team to regenerate samples or models, repeat experiments, and replicate and re-analyze data. Doing this requires rapid and unfettered access to protocol, sample, and experimental data.
Digital platforms and databases enable efficient organisation and storage of experimental data, making it easier to locate and retrieve archived information when needed. Furthermore, digitalisation promotes collaboration and knowledge sharing among researchers, fostering the exchange of ideas and accelerating the recovery and replication of lost samples, models, and data.
Many digital platforms utilise cloud computing and storage technologies, allowing for easy access to lab information anywhere in the world. So, if you need to evacuate your lab due to a natural disaster, accessing your data is as easy as logging into the platform once you get to safety.
If a freezer fails, as it might in the real-world situations described above, you’ll need to relocate samples to functional freezers rapidly and prioritise your most important samples. If you lose samples, you’ll need to access any related metadata about those samples so that you can repeat experiments and re-generate them.
Digital platforms provide centralised databases with sample information, including location, storage conditions, and related data, which can be recorded and easily accessed. Barcode or RFID-based tracking systems enable efficient sample identification, reducing the risk of errors and misplacements. Researchers can track samples throughout their lifecycle, from collection to storage, analysis, and disposal, ensuring proper handling. So, in the event of a freezer mishap, you can rapidly locate your most essential samples and get them back to optimal storage conditions.
To safeguard your laboratory against unforeseen threats, everyone from lab technicians to lab directors must be trained and feel comfortable on your digital lab platform. By doing this, your team can tap into the true benefits of digitalisation, such as improved communication and collaboration, enhanced data integrity and security, and increased productivity.
This type of shift in strategy doesn’t happen overnight, though. It requires training, leadership, and a steady transition toward digitalisation. We’ve overseen so many labs going through the process of making this transition that we know the common pitfalls and have developed a process for mitigating them. When everyone is armed with a digital lab platform and the knowledge of how to use it, everyday efficiency increases, and you provide your lab with comprehensive preparation for dealing with unforeseen samples or data loss.
Unforeseen events and disasters can devastate your lab work, causing samples, data, and research progress loss. While we cannot see the future, there are steps we can take to protect our labs and minimise the impact of such unpredictable incidents.
Future-proofing your lab against loss requires a full embrace of digitalisation. By implementing a digital lab notebook, you can efficiently store and retrieve experimental data, facilitate collaboration, and accelerate the recovery and replication of lost samples and data.
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