FreezerPro ColdTrack RFID Kit Pinpoints Vials in Cryogenic Storage Boxes

By Claire Swedberg

RURO's solution includes BioTillion's BoxMapper reader that lets researchers not only confirm that a specific sample is present, but also know its exact location within a box.

For the past several years, RURO, a Frederick, Md., company that develops software for biotechnology, pharmaceutical and health-care laboratories, has been providing a solution that employs radio frequency identification to track such human tissue, DNA and other substances stored within freezers (see Labs Use EPC Gen 2 Tags to Manage Biological Samples). While that solution has enabled users to identify which RFID-tagged vials were located in a particular cold-storage container, researchers still had to visually examine labels on individual vials in order to identify a specific one required for work being undertaken.

To make it simpler and faster to locate a vial, RURO has released a new kit containing a BoxMapper RFID reader provided by BioTillion, a technology firm based in New Jersey. The device detects not only which RFID-tagged vials are located within a particular cryogenic storage box (known as a cryo-box), but also where in that box they are located.

When storing samples at ultra-low temperatures, researchers place biological materials in vials, which are then loaded into cryo-boxes holding up to 100 vials apiece. Each vial looks more or less the same, the company reports, so if a researcher requires a specific vial—for example, one filled with DNA from a particular type of donor—he or she would need to lift up every vial to read text written on its label, or interrogate each vial's RFID tag. With the BoxMapper system, that process is unnecessary, since the samples' locations' can be mapped out by placing the cryo-box on the BoxMapper. The device has a built-in reader wired to an array of antennas. It comes with a cable for connecting to the USB port of a computer running RURO software, and is powered by that USB connection.

"This is a plug-and-play solution," says Vlad Lebedev, RURO's systems architect. A user can simply install the software, and the reader will begin capturing ID numbers from the vials' tags and transmitting that data back to the software.

The FreezerPro ColdTrack kit comes with 1,000 Wheaton 2-milliliter (0.7-ounce) vials, each embedded with an EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag. It also contains 10 Wheaton cryo-boxes, along with a BoxMapper reader to fit the cryo-box size selected. A user can also purchase a single-vial RFID reader or a handheld version.

First, a user inputs data regarding a sample being stored in a vial into the RURO software. This information may include the sample's volume, group or category, as well as the date and the parent sample from which it originated. Once the vial is placed into the cryo-box and on the BoxMapper, the unit reads the tag's ID number, determines its location and forwards that data to the RURO software, which displays a visual map of the box. When the vial is removed, the BoxMapper no longer reads the tag at that location, and the vial's ID is removed from the software display.

Identifying where specific vials are stored has historically been problematic, Lebedev says, since researchers are often responsible for 1,000 or more vials of a variety of substances, and may put into service new vials filled with substances taken from older ones—all of which need to be traceable for other experiments, as well as for inventory checks. The RURO software, he explains, enables a researcher to, for example, search for a specific kind of substance, such as DNA from someone of a particular age or gender, and view a map indicating where such vials would be located as that individual places the cryo-boxes on the BoxMapper. In addition, RURO provides users with paper labels on which they can print data about the material within each vial, as a redundancy to the RFID system. "We recommend that," Lebedev states.

RURO tested the BioTillion BoxMapper devices at several locations last year, Lebedev reports, in order to determine how well they could read tags, and how accurately they could pinpoint a specific vial's location. The BoxMapper and the RURO kit are now being trialed by a biomedical firm that has asked to remain unnamed.

The solution, according to RURO, not only allows users to spend less time entering data to identify each vial, but also ensures that mistakes are not made by workers mislabeling a vial, which could lead to using the wrong substance during a procedure. RURO's software is currently in use by more than 1,000 laboratories worldwide, Lebedev says, and is available in 10 languages.

BioTillion was founded by physicist Hanan Davidowitz, the company's CEO. BoxMapper, Davidowitz says, is his firm's first commercially released product related to the tracking of biological samples within freezers. The company markets the BoxMapper through RURO, as well as other distributors worldwide. During the coming year, he adds, BioTillion intends to release a solution that will track cryogenic boxes in real time, via an RFID reader and antennas built into the freezer.