So, what is a LIMS? Let’s define LIMS to begin with. A LIMS or Laboratory Information Management System is a software solution to address the data management, automation, and regulatory challenges of laboratories across the globe. As the name suggests, a LIMS is used to effectively manage laboratory samples and the associated data, thus standardizing operations by maintaining workflows, tests, and reporting procedures. With the growing needs of laboratories, the traditional LIMS too has evolved, with the system being able to do much more than just tracking samples.
If you are dealing with manual record-keeping and struggling to manage your laboratory data efficiently, you might be missing out on the incredible potential of a modern LIMS. In this blog post, we’ll explore what a LIMS is, how a LIMS works, what the purpose of a LIMS is, what the benefits of a LIMS are, and how it can automate your laboratory workflows and data management processes.
The earliest LIMS was developed as a system to keep a track of the movement of samples in a laboratory. Since then, LIMS has expanded to be an integrated solution for all laboratory data management needs including maintaining sample records, tracking of tests performed, managing customer services and managing invoices for the services rendered. This had led to the LIMS slowly replacing other laboratory data management solutions such as ELN (Electronic Laboratory Notebooks), patient portals, barcode management systems, accounting software, etc. Another key feature that most modern LIMS have implemented is a configuration tool. The tool makes the system versatile to meet your workflow requirements and match the terminology you use in your laboratory, eliminating the need for costly customization.
What is the role of a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)?
The most important role that LIMS plays in a laboratory is to increase the operational efficiency of the laboratory by automating and streamlining the workflows, eliminating the need for maintaining information manually and meeting regulatory guidelines. A good LIMS facilitates both easy record keeping and reporting, thus eliminating the risks of human errors and improving the overall turnaround time.
What is LIMS used for?
A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is used in laboratories for effective management of samples and associated data, thus increasing the efficiency of a lab. Over the years, there has been an explosion of data. The amount of data a modern lab houses cannot be managed using spreadsheets and paper-based LIMS. A LIMS automates and streamlines workflows, thus eliminating errors due to manual entry of data. Furthermore, a LIMS enables laboratories to meet stringent regulatory guidelines and quality standards with ease while reducing the turnaround time.
How does a LIMS work?
Briefly, a LIMS covers the journey of a sample from its induction into a laboratory till the end of its life cycle, including the stages of Sample Storage, Testing, Reporting and Archiving. As a sample is introduced into a lab, the LIMS operation starts by accessioning the sample on to the system and assigning it with a particular identification number. As and when the samples move through the laboratory, the related information can then be updated in a LIMS to maintain the audit trail.
Typical LIMS Workflow
Purposes of Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)
As mentioned above, a good LIMS balances both record keeping as well as report generation. Some of the core functions of a LIMS include:
Sample management is one of the critical functions of a LIMS. A LIMS manages detailed and accurate records of each sample and stores it securely, thus eliminating loss of data as it moves between the departments. Additionally, when the sample moves from one unit of the laboratory to another, the Chain of Custody is updated to ensure proper tracking of the sample’s location and custodian.
The inventory management function of LIMS is an essential part of a laboratory ‘s day-to-day management. A LIMS manages stock supplies and reagents. A LIMS can also generate automatic reorder alerts in case of stock depletion. These alerts facilitate laboratory workflows and prevent any delays resulting from the unavailability of stocks. A LIMS can also help to keep detailed and up-to-date information about your equipment and notify when any equipment is due for upgrade or maintenance.
A LIMS helps standardize testing workflows while providing complete and accurate control of the testing process. A LIMS allows you to manage the test conducted on the batch of samples, enables easy entry of the results, tracking approval/validation of results, and generation of reports. Besides, it allows you to manage test analytes and allocate tests to specific LIMS users.
Reporting is an essential part of LIMS that enables a laboratory to achieve an entire view of data collected and potential trends, reducing reporting overhead of the laboratory. A LIMS allows you to generate reports including sample tracking, sample summary, inventory, system configuration, test results, audit trail, QC data, sample/analysis count, invoices, freezer space, instrument calibration, etc.
A LIMS aids in document management by efficiently handling internal and external documents, including standard operating procesures (SOPs), manuals, policies, and consent forms. It enables tracking of revision history, assigning documents for review, and controlling access to confidential documents based on staff roles, and streamlining document organization so that you never misplace any documents.
A LIMS helps associate clinical research samples with a relevant study or project. These studies usually involve associated subjects that can be grouped into cohorts. For instance, in a research study, there can be a cohort comprising healthy participants who receive the treatment or drug being investigated. On the other hand, another group of subjects may consist of healthy individuals acting as a control group, meaning they do not receive the treatment or drug under investigation. Subsequently, samples are obtained from each cohort at specific intervals to analyze the safety and efficacy of the investigational drug or treatment. By using a comprehensive LIMS software, researchers can streamline all this data within a unified system, thereby centralizing information for enhanced data management capabilities and real-time collaboration with stakeholders, including sponsors, participants, trial sites, and contract research organizations (CROs).
How is LIMS used in a laboratory?
A LIMS is used for accessioning samples and tracking them from the minute you receive them in your laboratory until they are disposed of. Furthermore, a LIMS helps in managing tests and test results, tracking inventory, generating test reports, automating data transfer by integration with analytical instruments, standardizing operating procedures, and meeting regulatory compliance. A LIMS helps manage the flow of samples and associated data effectively, and eliminates data silos, enabling laboratories to centrally manage data and utilize it to make data-driven decisions.
Who can use a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)?
There are various industries that use a Laboratory Information Management System to manage their laboratory data. Some of the major industries include:
Clinical Research & Diagnostics- manage patient data and specimen information, maintain various test records and test results, generate reports, and automate laboratory workflows.
Biobanks and Biorepositories- track biological samples and manage their storage locations for easy retrieval of the samples and their associated data.
Food & Beverage Testing Laboratories- manage food and beverage samples, maintain test records, generate reports, and automate testing workflows.
Cannabis Testing Laboratories- manages clients, test orders, cannabis samples, tests for cannabinoid and pesticide levels, terpenes, moisture, heavy metal, fungi and molds, and generates a Certificate of Analysis (COA) while complying with regulatory compliance (ISO 17025)
Oil & Gas Testing Laboratories- manages sample batches, tests, testing schedules, sample monitoring, and review and validation of results with complete traceability for external auditing purposes.
Agriculture Testing Laboratories- manages sample types like soil, plant tissue, seeds, insects, feed, oils, nuts, husks, flowers, and more. The laboratories maintain sample booking, tracking, testing, quality control, test report generation, facilitating growers to take decisions in the field.
Water Testing Laboratories- manage samples from drinking water, surface water, wastewater and test them for various parameters, such as pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, nutrients, heavy metals, bacteria, and other contaminants.
Environmental Laboratories- test a wide array of environmental samples, including air, soil, and various types of wastes such as liquids, solids, and sludges. These samples undergo inorganic and organic chemical analysis, microbiological testing, physical assessments, and radiochemical evaluations.
Psychedelics Testing Laboratories- test psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin mushrooms, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), among others.
A Laboratory Information Management System offers a multitude of benefits in terms of laboratory data management. Some of the advantages of a LIMS system are:
1. Sample management wherein a user can efficiently track samples through the laboratory and allocate storage locations that mimic the sample storage hierarchy.
2. Workflow automation that leads to a decrease in possible human errors by eliminating manual entry of data.
3. Configurable user interface to meet the unique requirements of different laboratories and mirror their existing workflows.
4. Secure and restricted access to the data leading to better data privacy and protection.
5. Easy data backup and data mining options, resolving data accessibility issues.
6. User-role based access distribution to mirror the real-time laboratory personnel hierarchy.
7. Ease of reporting, wherein an authorized user can quickly generate reports pertaining to (a) the various tests performed, and (b) data required for auditing and quick analysis (for example, the total number of samples logged during a particular period or from a particular region).
8. Streamlined billing process by generating invoices and integrating with the various payment portals.
9. One of the advantages of LIMS system is the ability to track the maintenance and calibration of the instruments used in a laboratory. A LIMS can track all the activity, providing automated notifications to users for pending or overdue maintenance and calibration tasks. Additionally, it has the capability to monitor and log any incidents related to lab instrumentation as they occur.
10. Easy regulatory compliance including HIPAA, 21 CFR Part 11, ISO/IEC 17025:2017, ISO 15189, EU GDPR, ISO 20387, Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), Good Laboratory Practice (GLP), and Good Automated Manufacturing Practice (GAMP) .
Having understood the advantages of a LIMS, let’s explore the essential features of a good LIMS.
Features of a good LIMS
1. Easy configuration to ensure compatibility with customer requirements and adaptability to the evolving laboratory needs.
2. Seamless tracking of a sample’s lifecycle, right from sample accessioning, storage, and sample tests, to the permanent disposal of samples.
3. A user-friendly interface with access to the various modules and functionality based on access privileges.
4. Easy exchange of data between a Laboratory Information Management System and other instruments via flexible integration facility.
5. A key feature of LIMS software is its ability to centralize and manage all the peripheral elements essential for executing laboratory workflows. A LIMS database is a central repository that stores and organizes vast amounts of data related to laboratory samples, tests, and workflows. It serves as the backbone of a LIMS, enabling efficient data management, retrieval, and analysis for seamless laboratory operations.
Advantages of an in the cloud LIMS
Now that we know the advantages of a LIMS software, let’s take a look at the benefits of a LIMS in the cloud. Using a Laboratory Information Management System hosted in the cloud offers several service advantages over traditional on-premise LIMS for managing the ever-growing laboratory data. A cloud-based LIMS leverages the power of the cloud for resource utilization, storage flexibility, security and scaling benefits:
Highly scalable and flexible to meet the present-day needs and also the future needs of a laboratory.
No need for expensive hardware purchases and IT personnel making it affordable for small to medium-sized laboratories.
Quick deployment makes your laboratory up and running quickly.
Automatic software updates ensure that users can always access the latest version of the Laboratory Information Management System product. Server backups and disaster recovery mechanisms help get you quickly up to speed in the eventuality of a man-made or natural disaster.
Apart from the above advantages, a cloud-based LIMS facilitates real-time data access, secure data sharing, and streamlined workflows, fostering effective collaboration among lab members even if they are in different locations.
Implementing a LIMS improves the overall operational efficiency of a laboratory. A LIMS saves time otherwise spent on manual data logging and maintenance, thus offering an efficient data management solution. This leads to a decrease in human-error and a more accurate information system to support various decisions. It also comes with an audit trail, that automatically reduces the time taken for manual auditing. Additionally, a LIMS is most useful when dealing with voluminous data that requires batch analysis and repetitive daily operations. It also covers various compliance standards, helping laboratories maintain their regulatory, safety and privacy standards.