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Labs Use Tags for Cold Storage

Four French hospital research laboratories are using RFID to identify biological specimens stored in liquid nitrogen.
By Jonathan Collins
Jul 04, 2005RFID systems provider Tagsys says it plans to market a radio frequency identification system to monitor test tubes exposed to extreme cold and temperature changes.

"This is a proven, robust, reliable and secure system," says Elie Simon, CEO of Tagsys, which is based in La Penne sur Huveaune, France. The company says four hospital research laboratories near its headquarters have begun deploying the system to identify individual test tubes containing biological samples for cancer and stem cell research.

Elie Simon, CEO of Tagsys
Tagsys claims field tests have proven its Ario SDM (Small Disc Module) tags can operate in the extreme environments found at the labs. The tags have to be able to withstand temperatures as low as -320°F (-196°C) when stored in liquid nitrogen, as well as a rapid temperature rise by as much as 257°F (125°C), when they are removed from storage and exposed to room temperature.

The Paoli Calmettes Institute in Marseille began field tests of the 13.56 MHz RFID tags two years ago. For the first trial, 100 tubes, each embedded with an Ario SDM tag in its cap, were stored in liquid nitrogen for six months to see if the tags could withstand the extreme temperature for such a prolonged period. The second round of testing, which also lasted six months, followed with 1,000 tagged tubes placed in liquid nitrogen storage but removed at regular intervals to determine if the tags could withstand vast temperature swings.

After the tags passed both trials, the Paoli Calmettes Institute deployed the Tagsys Ario SDM system. Within the past few months, research laboratories at three other Marseille hospitals—Hospital of La Timone, Hospital of La Conception and North University Hospital—began using the technology with their own research samples.

According to Tagsys, the four labs are using more than 200,000 test tubes equipped with its Ario SDM tags. Two RFID readers (interrogators) are deployed at each facility. An Ario SDM read-write tag carries 2 kilobytes of memory, used to store a unique serial number, as well as a security key. The serial number of each test tube's tag is linked to a database housing critical information on that tube's tissue samples, including patient data, tissue treatments and other variables. The system uses software, developed by robotics and automation specialist Cybernétix, to manage the readers and the database, as well as to provide an application to pinpoint where a specific test tube is on the tray being read.

The labs are using Tagsys fixed desktop and lightweight RFID handheld readers, which can interrogate 100 tags in less than three seconds. Trays at the labs can hold up to 100 test tubes, and the system can quickly locate specific samples in a tray, according to Tagsys.

The RFID system replaces a bar code labeling system that could be unreliable because the labels can peel away from the specimen tubes. In addition, RFID has the additional benefit of allowing the tubes to be identified more easily and quickly, enabling more frequent and regular monitoring of pathology samples.
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