March 28, 2024

Forgetting or Losing Samples in Your Freezers? How Can Research Sites Optimize Their Sample Storage Solutions?

It’s a common occurrence in the world of a clinical research site: study coordinators are inundated with calls, emails, and queries about missing samples as sponsors prepare for interim and final analyses, database locks, and other study milestones. Site personnel are asked to comb through their on-site sample inventory in search of the missing samples. Sometimes these “lost” samples are eventually found in the back corner of a random freezer after hours of searching. Other times, these samples aren’t discovered until months or even years too late, when the study is closed or when batch analyses have already been performed for the sample type in question. 

So why is this such a common scenario in clinical research? Consider the nature of sample management on today’s clinical trials. The science behind today’s studies demands more sample collections than ever before; and on top of that, complex sample logistics necessitate different requirements for different samples. Some samples may need to be shipped the day of collection after being stored in a freezer for a short period of time, while others may need to be stored for an extended period of time before being shipped in batch. 

Those who have worked at a site intimately understand the challenges associated with keeping track of stored samples. Considering the fact that many research institutions may be managing stored samples across several patient visits and several trials every single day, it’s no wonder that samples will get lost in a freezer every once in a while. 

So what can sites do to save countless staff hours that are often lost to freezer searches for stored samples? And beyond that, how can sites improve the overall quality of their sample management operations?

Start tracking your samples before the point of collection

Sample storage is just one piece of the broader audit trail of a patient sample. Consider making sample storage a cohesive part of your sample management strategy by integrating it into a broader workflow that enables you to document the entire sample lifecycle starting at the sample’s nascent state as an empty container in a lab kit. From there, site staff can document the completion of sample collection and processing steps, followed by sample storage and shipment. This strategy not only creates a defensible, seamless chain of custody for every patient sample, but it facilitates the natural flow of sample management processes — setting the stage for streamlined sample storage processes.

Keep tabs on the physical storage location of every sample

Sites often run into issues locating samples in their freezers because storage location information is either not documented or not easily accessible. This is especially true for samples that are to be shipped in batch, which may have to sit in a freezer at a site for an extended period of time prior to shipment. When sites are asked by CRAs, labs, and sponsors to search their freezers for missing samples, they may run into situations where the collection of a certain sample was documented, but the physical location of the sample is nowhere to be found.

Sites should evaluate solutions that prompt staff to document the physical storage location of every sample so that the specimen can be easily located when it comes time for shipment. This has the potential to save hours of staff time spent tracking down specific samples, and may even avert the risk of losing a sample entirely.

Get alerted every time a sample is ready for shipment based on sample-specific procedures in the lab manual

One of the primary reasons that sample storage is so difficult to keep track of is because every sample may have unique, specific requirements for shipping frequency. For instance, on any given patient visit from any given trial, a site may be expected to ship some samples on the day of collection, some samples the week after collection, and some samples the month after collection. When you magnify these complex sample workflows across several samples, patient visits, and trials, it’s easy to see why sites may have trouble staying on top of the timely shipment of every single sample. 

Fortunately, there are solutions out there that can alert study coordinators anytime a stored sample should be triggered for shipment based on the specifications outlined in the lab manual. These alerts make it drastically easier for site staff to stay on top of their sample shipments and eliminates the need for manual monitoring — especially for samples that should be shipped in batch.

Get a better handle on your stored samples by integrating Slope into your sample management workflows

Slope’s sample management solution is free for sites and can help site staff streamline their processes for managing stored samples across their entire clinical trial portfolio. Once Slope users document sample collection and processing steps within the Slope platform, users can also document when and where a sample was stored; this not only creates a comprehensive audit trail for every single sample, but it makes it easy to locate samples once they are ready for shipment.

The platform can be configured to alert users once a stored sample needs to be shipped based on the storage duration that is prescribed in the lab manual. With Slope, sites don’t have to worry about losing track of samples in their freezers or having to spend precious staff time manually monitoring their stored samples.

To get started with your free Slope account, click here. In the meantime, click here to learn more about the impact of today's clinical trial landscape on research site compliance.

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