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UHF RFID Solution for Laboratory Animals Aims to Boost Productivity, Accuracy

Using Somark Innovation's SensaLab solution, laboratories can read and write data from and to an ultra-small UHF RFID tag embedded in the base of an animal's tail, without requiring technicians to remove the animal from its cage or handle it.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 27, 2019

Millions of animals, primarily rodents, are used in laboratories each year, and tracking them is predominantly a manual process. While it's critical to manage the identity and history of each animal, the systems that do so are often cumbersome, with a potential for errors. Unfortunately, the type of RFID technology used to track pets isn't very practical for small rodents.

Somark Innovations has developed a potential solution known as SensaLab, which is being trialed by laboratories, pharmaceutical companies and universities throughout North America and Europe. The system consists of an ultra-small UHF RFID tag that the firm developed in-house, known as the RFAi.D Tag, that can be implanted in an animal and then be read from a distance of about 5 centimeters (2 inches), thereby reducing the discomfort caused by a large tag, or the need to handle an animal to get the tag close enough to a reader for it to be interrogated.

Jay Campbell
The legacy method for tracking animals consists of a variety of manual processes, says Jay Campbell, Somark's chief commercial officer. That includes putting visible notches in an animal's ear or applying a small metal tag to the ear with engraved numbers. In some cases, technicians also apply a physical tattoo on the animal's tail, or a shaved spot on its hind flank.

Tattooing has become somewhat simpler than it traditionally had been, Campbell notes, with the advent of the Labstamp device in 2012 that restrains an animal and applies the tattoo automatically. However, the system still requires someone to physically read the tattoo's number at various times during the animal's life, and manually enter experiment-based data, which is not only time-consuming, but also introduces the potential for transcribing errors, according to Paul Donohue, Somark's chief technology officer.

In some cases, LF RFID tags are being implanted in animals, though Sensalab argues they are simply too large for rodents, which comprise the vast majority of laboratory animals (approximately 60 to 70 million rodents are used for this purpose annually). LF tags have a shorter read range and can disrupt MRI scans because of their ferrite cores. Another significant advantage of UHF technology involves readability. LF tags must be read one at a time, whereas UHF technology allows for the scanning of multiple tags on animals simultaneously—an advantage that Somark will use in future developments.

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