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Labs Use EPC Gen 2 Tags to Manage Biological Samples

The FreezerPro system enables researchers to pinpoint the locations of frozen human tissue, viruses and other materials stored within vials or plates packed in boxes.
By Claire Swedberg
There are as many as 50 researchers working in the facility, and tracking each vial to ensure it was safely stored had been the lab's greatest challenge. With the new system, researchers can simply sign into the FreezerPro software, which resides on the laboratory's back-end system, and key in the particular item they seek to work with. According to Milliken, the software will then indicate in which freezer the item is located (this data must be input by the individual who put the sample away), as well as in which box.

The lab has three Impinj Speedway desktop RFID readers—two installed in the freezer storage area, and one in the lab itself. When a sample is removed from the freezer, a technician takes the entire box to the interrogator and places it on top of the device. The reader captures the tag ID number of the box, as well as those of all the samples within, then sends that information to the FreezerPro software, which interprets those ID numbers and displays the results on a computer monitor, including an alert if any samples are missing, or if they have been placed in the wrong box.

The software displays a map of the box, with each storage space within that box showing a colored icon indicating the type of sample within the container stored in that space. It also identifies whether the sample the researchers seeks is in that box. In that way, each box need not be opened when vials are being searched for. When the box is returned to the freezer, it is once again placed on the desktop interrogator, which reads the ID numbers of the box and vial RFID labels, then sends that data to the FreezerPro software, thereby indicating the items have been returned to the freezer.

The second laboratory, which is storing samples for the U.S. military, is employing the system similarly to the first lab. The facility began using the system about five months ago. In this case, security is the highest priority, and the system is in place, first and foremost, to ensure samples are where they should be located. The researchers know, at each scan of every box, whether all vials are accounted for. In that way, by performing frequent inventory counts, staff members can know that a sample is missing, and can reduce the amount of time spent searching for vials that are not in the container in which they were expected to be found. The lab uses two FreezerPro readers to track approximately 2,000 samples.

The RFID labels cost around $1 apiece, Milliken says, while the software is priced at about $5,000, the Zebra encoder carries a price tag of $6,000 and Impinj readers range between $4,000 and $6,000 each. Creating a system that works at the temperatures of the laboratories was a challenge for RURO, Milliken says. Impinj, Partnered Print Solutions and RURO thus worked together to develop tags that could be read at extremely low temperatures, through a layer of frost. The tags are also capable of being read in the presence of liquid nitrogen.

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