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Old pipe delivery system

Can a Victorian invention better protect sample integrity?

News

16 September, 2019

Within biobanking, much work has been done to gain greater consistency in the way that samples are collected, processed, stored and retrieved. Generally, Institutes take great care to develop well documented procedures to ensure samples are handled or processed uniformly and organisations such as ISBER have published guidelines. However, an overlooked weak link often remains that we think the Victorians can help us out with.

Typically, samples are transferred from the collection/processing point to the biobank manually in batches, with some samples being held longer than others. Centres can mitigate risk by placing racked samples into temporary freezers but this process introduces inconsistencies with respect to freezing profiles that we highlighted in a recent blog entitled: Sample integrity versus storage temperature. What can we learn from penguins? This study looked at the time taken for tubes to reach -80oC rack versus their rack location and identified up to two hours difference.

Whilst not ideal, this is generally accepted as a necessary compromise due to the fact storing tubes without racks is not practical, yet we all know that preserving sample integrity is critical. Degraded samples could potentially generate misleading data that results in research rabbit holes. What if there was a solution? Could pneumatic pipes be used to improve workflow consistency by providing more efficient, harmonized sample transfer from collection point to biostorage?

Pneumatic pipes became very popular in the Victorian period for sending messages and small objects. The power of compressed air, blowing hard on one end of a pipe and firing a small unit at high speed, was an efficient form of delivery.

Victorian tubes

Today this approach is still used by thousands of organisations such as hospitals, banks, department stores, supermarkets and fast food giants to deliver a variety of things such as cash packets, medicines and even burgers. Closer to home, several major Pharmaceutical companies have adopted pneumatic tube transport to connect chemistry departments with analytical devices in remote labs, enabling technology centralisation and improved workflow efficiency.

Can this approach also be applied to biobanks? Absolutely! By providing rapid, low risk intra- or inter building sample transfer from collection points to the biobank and from the biobank to research labs, the integrity of biological samples at these overlooked steps is much better protected.

If this all sounds too much like a pipe-dream....... pinch yourself, it’s a reality! The pipe is usually around 1 cm in diameter and can easily be fitted into existing builds through original piping and electrical conduits. Tubes can be transported over long distances, (typically tens of metres apart), which is particularly enabling as sample collection, biostorage and research labs are rarely located together.

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