Industrial Wireless

Keeping cryopreservation cool

January 2021 Industrial Wireless

In hospitals and laboratories around the world, cryopreservation is used for the long-term storage of human tissue samples, blood and bone marrow. Even small fluctuations in the freezer’s operating temperature can lead to the loss of valuable research materials. In this article, Ian Loudon, international sales and marketing manager at remote monitoring specialist Omniflex, discusses how South Africa’s Medical Research Council (MRC) and the University of KZN, as well as the UK’s Oxford University, are reaping the benefits of remote wireless monitoring of system operating temperatures.

In the age of Industry 4.0 and the widespread adoption of IIoT technologies, the benefits of remote monitoring of key assets are more compelling than ever. It is becoming clear that remote monitoring offers a most convenient and cost-effective way of managing system performance. By remotely managing assets over long periods of time, industry reaps the rewards in the form of lower operating costs, faster response times and better service levels.

Aiding African med-tech

South Africa’s MRC is a world leading institute in AIDS, TB research and anti-retro viral drug trials, with facilities based throughout the country. When the MRC needed to upgrade 16 of its facilities to monitor temperature and humidity levels in its -80°C sample storage area, it engaged Omniflex to find a solution. The project included the MRC’s regional head office where over 50 freezers and fridges needed to be monitored 24/7, 365 days a year.

The MRC had three main criteria that the new system had to meet. Firstly, it needed a single centralised control system for admin staff to monitor and review operating parameters. Secondly, it needed to be installed using GSM services to update the cloud-based server and provide reports. Finally, it had to alert key personnel, by SMS and email, in the event of a serious problem arising.

Omniflex was able to meet all three of these key objectives using its Data2Desktop system, which records all system data and timestamps to produce a chronological record of historical data, for audit purposes. The system automatically produces hourly reports that can be accessed remotely by admin staff with the necessary login credentials. Finally, should a system error or outage occur, the SMS and email alerts are automatically distributed to all relevant personnel, allowing the problem to be addressed immediately.

The Data2Desktop system has now been adopted by the University of KZN, a research pioneer of AIDS and TB, whose site includes several biohazard level three facilities. Omniflex has installed 24/7 remote monitoring at 15 of the University’s sites, including the nitrogen freezer research repositories. This helps to ensure that the university can protect its valuable research assets and respond quickly in the event of a problem arising.

The Oxford project

It may be home to some of the world’s finest minds, but Oxford University is still susceptible to machine failure, just like any other institution. In its medical laboratories, where cryopreservation technology is commonplace, the institution monitored the operating temperatures of -80°C and -200°C freezers by carrying out visual inspections and manually recording the results.

This is an inaccurate process since it only reflects the temperature at the time of reading and does not account for variation throughout the day. Furthermore, if freezer temperature is compromised by machine failure occurring outside of regular working hours, valuable samples could be destroyed by the time the problem is discovered.

Oxford University engaged Omniflex to provide it with a means of monitoring the operating temperature of each freezer remotely, 24 hours a day, with rapid response capabilities. Omniflex networked the sensors to monitor operating temperatures in real time, with alerts sent out via SMS and email in the event of abnormal temperature fluctuations, so operators could take appropriate action. Furthermore, the system was supplied with battery backup so it could function independently of local power in the event of an outage. By installing wireless remote monitoring systems, Omniflex helped researchers at Oxford University overcome the challenges they faced when it came to cryopreservation of materials.


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