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Virtual Chemistry Inc. RFID-Enables Its Lab-Animal Management Solution

The provider of software and services for the life-sciences industries has added support for EPC Gen 2 UHF tags and readers, to automate the process of conducting inventory counts of cages filled with laboratory animals, enabling billing and care records.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 08, 2012Virtual Chemistry, a U.S. provider of software and services for the life-sciences industries, reports that its Mosaic Vivarium laboratory animal resource (LAR) management software now supports Allentown Inc.'s RFID-based Wi-Com Sensus solution for lab animals, to provide automated location data to the Mosaic Vivarium software. The integrated RFID-based solution is designed to make it easier for the lab to document the locations of cages full of laboratory animals, along with their histories, and to provide more accurate billing and greater efficiency when performing inventory counts.

Laboratories often manage mice for researchers who perform testing with those animals and pay the labs to house and care for them. The sites employ a variety of methods for tracking the thousands or more mice, or other animals, that they care for and provide to researchers. Animal inventory-management systems match lab mice and other caged animals with the researchers using them. The Mosaic Vivarium software is designed to enable recordkeeping and analysis of data regarding laboratory animals, by storing the gathered details about the animals' locations and care histories, as well as subsequent studies conducted on them by specific researchers, and also to facilitate billing by the lab for its services. Most labs use a manual or bar-code-based method, but Virtual Chemistry is now teaming with Allentown Inc. to provide a more automated method that utilizes radio frequency identification technology.

Managing animal inventory has become more complex over the past decade, explains Travis Thelen, Virtual Chemistry's VP of products and services, as the need for laboratory mice for genetic testing has grown exponentially since approximately 2002. Commonly used "knock-out" mice (genetically engineered mutations with one or more gene knocked out) are bred for specific types of genetic testing, and are then sold for use by researchers.

Companies that either breed the mice, or purchase them and then make them available to researchers, typically undertake weekly inventory checks in order to verify the locations of cages within the lab, and thus the animals inside those cages. If a cage and the mice in it are present at the lab, the facility can bill the researcher conducting tests on them, since that indicates the laboratory is housing and caring for them. In addition, information regarding the animals' age, health, feeding and procedures is written (either by the lab staff or by researchers) on an index card inserted into a cardholder on the front of the cage, and laboratory workers can enter this information into the system. The data is then aggregated into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or other system software. The shortcomings inherent in the manual method are not only the large amount of time spent to complete that task, but also the risk of human error—missing a cage, for example, or transcribing the incorrect cage number. Researchers, who are usually under a great deal of financial pressure to stay within a budget for a grant-funded project, may often question billing. In addition, a manual method makes it impossible to mine data about cages and the animals within them, and to create advanced reports based on that information.

The Wi-Com Sensus solution consists of a plastic Gemline cardholder with an embedded EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag. The software stores each cage tag's ID number, linked to its location and history, and can export that data onto a facility's existing management system. In this case, it will export the location data to the Web-based Mosaic Vivarium software, which stores data pertaining to cage history, for billing to researchers, as well as to track the genotyping undertaken on the mice, along with a history of each animal's care. The software can reside on a user's back-end system, but more typically is accessible via a server hosted by Virtual Chemistry. The Wi-Com Sensus solution employs RFID hardware provided by Motorola Solutions and Alien Technology.

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