CBSR has a pair of Tecan Freedom EVO liquid handling robots to help with sample processing. The robots offer a higher throughput of samples than possible with manual processing. One robot is capable of running 32 sets of patient samples simultaneously with a run time of 2 hours. This means when the the pair of robots can process 480 samples sets a day when accounting for office hours and reload time.

The robots have been extensively customized to suit CBSR’s needs and have several add-ons that allow it to handle samples from start to finish without need for technician intervention at any point. These include a tube de­capper, a tube inspection unit, a data matrix barcode scanner, a flatbed nunc tube scanner, a below deck centrifuge, a heat sealer, and a carousel for holding additional supplies. The robots are completely enclosed within custom built biosafety cabinets to ensure both sample integrity and operator safety.

The robots are managed by the Freedom Evoware software. This software allows for rapid development and execution of scripts for the robots. It also incorporates built-in sample tracking and audit trails to ensure that the output is exactly what’s expected. From there Evoware generates a CSV file that is automatically reconciled with the Biobank database on a nightly basis. From that point the samples are scanned into freezer locations along with all the manually processed samples.

CBSR currently uses -80°C chest freezers for the majority of our sample storage. We have made the choice to exclusively use chest freezers over upright freezers as they guarantee more consistent temperatures. When you open an upright freezer the denser cold air falls out allowing the less dense room temperature air to replace it. This causes potentially damaging temperature fluctuations every time the freezer is opened. As chest freezers only open on the top there is less opportunely for the cold air to be replaced with room temperature air when opened.

Each freezer can hold up to 120,000 aliquots, made possible by our efficient Nunc Racking system. These racks are arranged and labelled in a grid pattern which results in each rack being uniquely identified within the freezer.

The samples are stored in pallets that fit into the numbered shelves of the rack. Regardless of how many aliquots are stored the pallets are labelled in a SBS standard grid, similar to the rack's labelling scheme. By combining the freezer number, rack number, shelve number and aliquot number, every aliquot stored in one of our freezers has a unique identifier and can be easily retrieved despite the very high capacity of our freezers.

CBSR utilizes vapor phase liquid nitrogen dewars for the storage of highly temperature sensitive samples. Divided between 2 styles of dewars, CBSR has the capacity for 500,000 aliquots in the vapour phase liquid nitrogen.

This nitrogen slowly vaporizes, cooling the contents of the dewar to -180°C. The dewar monitors the depth of the liquid nitrogen reservoir and the temperature of the dewar and tops it off accordingly to maintain the desired temperature. In the event of a power failure the computer operating the dewar has a backup battery of 72 hours. Since the liquid nitrogen is provided from a pressurized supply tank no pump in needed, allowing for the power-efficient filling of the dewar when on battery. In the extremely rare event that the power is out for longer than 72 hours or the battery backup fails, the dewar itself can maintain its temperature for another 72 hours if properly sealed for the duration.

CBSR ships samples at room temperature in insulated shippers provided by Saf T Pak. The samples ship in between controlled room temperature packs. These temperature packs are made with phase change material that has proven to be a very effective thermal barrier/insulation between samples and external temperature fluctuations frequently seen during transport. The phase change material changes between solid and liquid during transit. During this phase change it releases or stores thermal energy to maintain its specific temperature band. For our room temperature shipments this band is 20-24 degrees Celsius.

With the use of SAF-T-Temp Gel Pak Phase Change Material with and temperature band of 0-4 degrees, CBSR is able to ship specimens and have them remain chilled during transport. The samples are placed in between the phase change cold temperature packs, which have been stored overnight in a refrigerator, and everything is transported in a SAF T PAK insulated shipper.

All CBSR technicians are trained in the handling and shipping of dry ice. With the use of SAF T PAK insulated shippers we are able to overnight specimens on dry ice to anywhere in Canada and the United States.

CBSR uses Nitrogen Vapour Shippers to ship samples worldwide. The shippers are filled with Liquid Nitrogen and allowed to charge for 24 hours. After which the liquid nitrogen will have absorbed into the walls of the shipper and be in vapour phase. The inside of the shipper will maintain a temperature of -170 degrees Celsius for up to 10 days. The samples never come into contact with the liquid nitrogen only the vapour phase. The entire unit is sealed and has a temperature logger that tracks the changes and current temperature of the unit. Unlike dry ice, the dry nitrogen shipper is not a dangerous good while in transit. This unit is ideal for shipping samples over long distances such as overseas destinations.

CBSR utilizes 4 bench top centrifuges when manually processing samples. All the centrifuges have refrigeration units allowing for cold spins when temperature sensitive compounds are of interest to the investigator of a study. They are also all equipped with bucket lids to protect the operators from any aerosolization that may occur during centrifugation. All centrifuges are certified twice yearly by an Alberta Health Services technician.

Our Alps 50V heat sealer provides a secure and tight seal around individual wells of a microplate removing the need for tube caps. This increases throughput of samples as time spent decapping and recapping tubes is effectively eliminated. The seal is formed in seconds minimizing the contact time of the hot plate of the sealer preventing any chance of sample damage by heat. The seal provides greater protection in liquid nitrogen environments and can be removed by a standard tube piercer found in most labs.

All manual sample processing is performed inside Level A2 Biosafety Cabinets. These cabinets utilize a curtain of air and negative pressure to ensure that contaminants from outside the hood can’t disrupt sample integrity and any potentially harmful aerosols from inside the hood can’t infect the technician. All hoods are certified by the University of Alberta's Biosafety division on an annual basis.

CBSR utilizes laser etched Nunc barcoded tubes to improve both throughput and data accuracy. The Laser etched barcodes are highly resistant to damage from temperature, solvents, and abrasion, ensuring that the sample are always identifiable even after long term storage. The tubes lock into place in a pallet that can then be read with a flatbed scanner.

CBSR utilizes flatbed scanners and 2D handheld scanners to efficiently read and enter sample information into the system. The flatbed scanners are low cost off the shelf document scanner available from most office supply store. Using our Biobank or PlateID software these document scanners can be used to read pallets of nunc tubes 96 at a time. The handheld scanners are used to supplement the flatbed scanners when reading a full pallet at a time is not practical or possible. This typically includes handling individual collection tubes.