What do you do when you run out of sample storage space?

Posted by Amyre NM. Vincent on Jun 16, 2015 11:00:00 AM

Biorepository_Freezers_Storage_SpaceIn a perfect biorepository world, freezer units don’t fail, samples arrive only after proper notification, and available space is at pace with inflow of samples. However, in the real world of biorepositories, finding space for samples—with or without proper notification and perfectly reliable freezers—is an ongoing issue. This blog offers ideas for dealing with short-term scarcity of space for incoming samples.

Shortfalls Happen

A number of factors can contribute to limitations in storage space on a short-term basis in a facility that otherwise has abundant long term storage capacity. These include factors that originate at the biorepository, such as:

  • Purchase of additional cold storage units was not authorized on time,
  • The manufacturer faced constraints and could not meet demand,
  • An unexpectedly high freezer failure rate (such as during summer heat waves when HVAC cannot meet demand), and/or
  • Sample consolidation has been delayed because of surges in shipping and other biospecimen inventory activities.

Space limitations can also be created by researchers and other repository users, by:

  • Increasing the collection rate of a study or studies to meet a deadline (such as submission of an abstract),
  • Deciding to collect additional samples per participant visit,
  • Collaborating in a joint research venture, including storage of samples at the same facility, and/or
  • Loaning of sample storage space by an investigator to a collaborating laboratory or co-investigator.

Navigating a Short-Term Crunch

Here is a selection of options for finding more space when incoming samples outpace your projections. One size does not fit all; a combination of options may be useful until long-term capacity catches up with short-term limitations.

Consolidate and more.
Consolidating a freezer or two will add capacity, but go beyond a simple consolidation and look for additional opportunities to make space usage more efficient. These opportunities can come in the form of stacking or turning odd-shaped containers on their side, re-organizing, replacing missing racks, and/or using alternate storage containers. The challenge is to ensure that any sample movement or change is tracked in all inventory software and/or database systems. Accuracy is critical!

Borrow / Outsource freezer space.
Ask a collaborator, colleague, or commercial biorepository for short-term use of freezer space. If security or incoming/outgoing traffic is a concern with borrowed space, the freezer can be physically moved to a more secure location. Communication of expectations, duration of time needed, and tracking of material movement is essential. Security is less of an issue if material storage is outsourced to a commercial provider. Again, maintaining location accuracy is critical!

Establish an Emergency/Standby PO.
Expedited approval to order new cold storage units, in the form of a purchase order (PO) or credit card, can help minimize the time involved in adding capacity. If possible, request an open PO for freezers, so funds are available for use when needed.

Purchase freezer units with maximum capacity. If your shortage is due to aging, failing freezers, take advantage of the models that maximize capacity without increasing footprint. The new 32 ft3 ultra-low (-70°C to -90°C) freezers hold 700 standard 2x2” cryoboxes. For -30°C or warmer storage capacity, consider building walk-in units, which last far longer and are more energy-efficient than mechanical units. 

Change the Collection Protocol.
Work with the investigator to adjust the collection method, such as opting to collect a larger volume in a single vial instead of two samples in two vials of the same size. This helps to prevent wasted space up front. Be sure to keep in mind that adapting a collection protocol will require an exploration of the investigator’s plans and projected usage of samples. Sample integrity is of the utmost importance, and freeze/thaw cycles should be kept to a minimum.

If All Else Fails, Slow or Suspend Sample Acquisition.
Asking for time out should be a last resort! However, requesting a temporary hold or reduction in shipments to the repository until space issues are resolved can buy you time. Shipments should resume as soon as possible.

Repository staff and the research community have the same goal: maintain the integrity of the samples for downstream research. When events such as freezer failure and surges in sample collection create shortages in available space, we must work together to ensure that the solutions implemented support the goals of the research community we serve.

To learn more about ways to reduce the risk associated with your irreplaceable samples and cell lines through off-site storage, download our eBook Defense in Depth: Off-Site Storage for Biological Specimens and Biopharmaceuticals Risk Mitigation.


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Utra-low freezer capacity and dimensions:

Cryovial capacity: