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The eight vital elements life sciences organisations must have in their environmental monitoring system
Q & A | Technical

The life sciences play a crucial role in helping us to understand living organisms, including humans. This area of study and research is responsible for some of the greatest advances in science – including mapping the human genome, assisted reproductive technologies and ground-breaking approaches to the causes, consequences, prevention and treatment of disease. The work undertaken by life-sciences laboratories relies heavily on being able to maintain environments at the right temperature, humidity and in some cases pressure.

Research institutions, such as Melbourne University, the University of New South Wales, and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute have banks of fridges and freezers containing tissue samples from clinical trials and products under development. Hospitals, like The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Mackay Hospital and NSW Health hospitals need to store medications, blood products, vaccines, and test samples to ensure accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of patients.  Assisted reproduction clinics such as Monash IVF need to store freeze and store sperm, eggs and embryos. They also need to ensure a consistent temperature of 37 degrees in the incubators which serve as an artificial uterus before embryos are implanted. In some cases, other environmental factors have to be controlled too – such as CO2 saturation levels in an incubator.

The life sciences rely on controlled environments – and maintaining the correct temperature is essential. The consequences of allowing an environment to become too warm or cold are stark: the wrong temperature can have a major impact on the viability, efficacy and safety of the materials being stored, risking wasting years of research data, the inability to diagnose, and even the loss of a potential life.

It is essential then to be able to monitor the temperature and other environmental conditions, and to be alerted to potential issues before they cause problems. So what should a life sciences organisation look for in a temperature management system? There are many elements in a temperature monitoring system – it’s not simply a question of thermometers or probes, but all the ‘supporting cast’ that makes the system workable and reliable.

What should life sciences organisations look for in a temperature monitoring system?

1. Temperature sensors

It’s important to have the right sensor for each temperature controlled environment to get the most accurate reading. For example, frozen embryos are stored at -196 degrees in tanks of liquid nitrogen. Some older sensor technology sits in the lid of the tank, but this can produce inaccurate readings. So, it’s important to have sensors located deeper inside the tank, submersed in the liquid nitrogen. If the monitoring system is configured correctly, careful location of the tip of the sensor will provide a low-level alarm for the liquid nitrogen. Similarly with incubators or fridges, it’s important to have a sensor that is designed for a specific purpose (tank, fridge, freezer, incubator) can be positioned such that it will always give an accurate reading. The temperature sensors must be able to constantly monitor and track temperature and send an alert if a threshold is breached and the environment becomes too warm or cold.

2. Door sensors

One of the primary causes of temperature anomalies is when the door to a fridge or freezer is left open. So it’s important to have a sensor that can monitor door position and  send an alert if a door is left open or opened too frequently or for too long.

3. Battery and battery sensors

Whilst a temperature monitoring system may be powered by electricity, it’s essential to have battery backup in case of a power failure. Organisations also need to know when batteries are nearing end of life so they can replace them. It’s important to also receive alerts when battery charge is low.

4. Wireless network

Some temperature monitoring systems use wires to transmit information from the sensors to the control system, but this can cause issues when tanks, fridges and incubators need to be moved. For greater flexibility, organisations should consider sensors that transmit their data wirelessly to a base station via access points (APs).

5. Software

The software is an essential element of a temperature monitoring solution – allowing organisations to define their temperature thresholds and set up the alert protocols – such as who receives alerts, differences based on time of day/night, which alerts are sent by SMS, which by email.

6. Audit history

In some cases, such as when embryos need to be transported between facilities, it’s important to have an audit report of the temperature at any stage of the process. This is also important in the case of an insurance claim or complaint. The software needs to be able to provide a complete history of the storage temperature.

7. Installation and maintenance

The system needs to be installed and maintained to ensure maximum efficiency. It needs to be designed to meet each individual organisation’s needs, and staff need to be trained in its use.

8. NATA accredited calibration

Finally, all monitoring equipment in a life sciences organisation must be regularly calibrated to National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) standards to ensure continued accuracy.

Ideally, life sciences organisations would look for a specialist temperature monitoring expert partner who can provide the entire end to end solution, from specialist probes to software, to maintenance and calibration.

The life sciences are pivotal in understanding living organisms and advancing science – and temperature management is vital to continuing this life-changing work.