Campaign Fights Lab Sloppiness

"Scientists Against Sample Abuse" aims to raise awareness about the importance of consistency when it comes to handling biological samples.

Sep 28, 2011
Jef Akst

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, RETAMA

BioCision, a biotech company based in Larkspur, California, that develops temperature-controlling products such as special alloy eppendorf tube racks that protect biological samples during rapid and repeated freezing, is launching a tongue-in-cheek campaign with the serious aim of standardizing laboratory practices to ensure the quality of cell and tissue samples. Things as simple as opening and closing a freezer door can affect samples more severely depending on their placement within the freezer, and must be considered. Gene expression, for example, can be differentially affected by temperature, as thermaolabile genes become activated under different freezing conditions.

Inconsistencies in how samples are handled can thus result in different gene expression signatures, and may explain at least some cases where disease targets identified in a basic biology lab fail to generate successful drugs in translational studies, BioCision researchers argue.

"We are trained as scientists to be rigorous in controlling so many variables of our experiments, to take extra care as we operate highly sensitive instruments and assays," Maria Thompson, head of scientific affairs at BioCision, wrote in a Scientific American blog post. But scientists don't always address the simpler aspects of studies, such as the freezing of samples, she added.

The campaign, called "Scientists Against Sample Abuse," details some of these problems, provides a forum for reporting sample abuse in the lab, and offers a petition to join the movement. The effort will randomly select participating three scientists each month for the rest of the year to receive a free BioCision product of their choice.

"We hope scientists will find humor in [the campaign]," Thompson wrote. "But, we also hope that biomedical researchers and clinicians will take a step back from their experimental protocols and re-think the sources of variability in their experiments.… As individuals, we can feel overwhelmed by the problems of sample handling, but as a community, we can solve them."