Creating an affordable, user-friendly electronic inventory system for lab samples


Advocate Aurora Research Institute Discovery Lab, Aurora Sinai Medical Center


Sharing physical laboratory space optimizes resource use among research departments, improves collaboration, and reduces costs. Universal inventory management is essential to successful space sharing, item tracking and availability, and data mining; therefore, our lab was interested in a tool for these purposes. Different research groups have differing needs, priorities, and considerations. We investigated prebuilt inventory management programs, and we found a custom Microsoft (MS) Access reference database to be optimal. We designed a custom MS Access abstract inventory data model around previously established needs with information gathered in staff interviews and meetings. We performed a physical inventory of all cryopreserved samples to allow uniform data entry when migrating to the database. We created manuals and protocols, and the staff was trained on entering data. Using a universal inventory system allows for quick report generation of physical inventory, which in turn preserves sample quality by reducing redundancy as well as time locating vials. Users can run queries to report a wide range of sample characteristics. Storage information can be easily analyzed for statistically significant trends, samples have reliable traceability, and data are auditable for accuracy.

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