Laboratories for epidemiology should, ideally, be expert at running simple, robust experiments on large numbers of samples. The principle aims are to avoid any possibility of mixing-up samples whilst processing them quickly and efficiently to get highly reproducible results. To achieve these aims, we have a very experienced team of staff, who routinely use robotics and bar-code readers within a LIM (Laboratory Information Management) system to track samples through each experiment.
Blood samples from volunteers for our studies arrive in the lab, by post, daily. Each tube, containing blood, already carries a bar-code that is unique for each volunteer. Our dedicated team log these into our LIM system and rapidly sort them ready for extraction of DNA, RNA, plasma or storage in freezers for later use. Batches of 96 are sent to Gen-Probe in Livingstone who purify each volunteer’s DNA from the white cells in the blood, standarise it, and then return the batch to us in bar-coded boxes, suitable for our robotics. The bar-codes are used to track every process so that not only can we be certain which results belong to whom, but also how much sample we have left from each volunteer and where that is stored.
The major experimental activity in the lab is SNP genotyping, which we can do at different rates according to the needs of each experiment. We have both an ABI Taqman system which, when configured with allied robotics and thermal cyclers, can routinely generate results from a single SNP in 36,000 samples per week and a Biomark Fluidigm system capable of genotyping 96 SNPs in 4,000 samples per week. For even higher throughput SNP genotyping as well as Next Generation Sequencing we also have an Illumina Hi-scan system. We take pride in the time and care we put into fitting each technology into an efficient and accurate process. It gives us confidence that the results we put into our databases for our statistician and epidemiologist colleagues are as reliable as they can be.