Integration is LIMS inspiration

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In our latest roundup of comings and going in the world of Laboratory Information Management Systems, Vanessa Spedding finds the bulk of recent activity involves an industrious few

For software manufacturers, blessings come in the form of fast-moving application areas. In the case of LIMS, biotechnology is still in the driving seat, inspiring the developers to maintain consistently rapid and creative levels of innovation.

The current season's advancements are no exception. Integration and linking initiatives are still popular and much of the activity appears to be coming from a very productive minority.

Take Thermo LabSystems. The past coupled of months has seen the announcement of two major upgrades, some other developments and an award at Pittcon 2002.

The company has started shipping the latest version of its LIMS, Nautilus 2002 Release 1, and takes pride in the 'host of new features and enhancements designed to further ease system configuration while boosting user productivity through even greater flexibility' it is said to offer.

These features include functionality for the processing of microtitre plates, of particular interest to the biotechnology industry and used in high throughput screening and experimentation. It also offers improved 'Racks' functionality, which provides improved verification messaging when adding aliquots to specific racks, and new 'Workflow Tracing' functions, which allow managers to track the execution of laboratory workflows in the LIMS.

Thermo LabSystems has also released the 2002 version of the Atlas Chromatography Data System (CDS), which includes a series of additional features for improved instrument control and ease of use.

This version enables control of the Agilent 5890 and 6890 instruments from Atlas DataServers (via RS232), with the capability for monitoring signal noise and drift without the requirement to initiate a run. It also offers enhanced control for the Agilent 1100; customisable toolbars and instrument icons in Atlas Instrument Manager; and status updates saying whether the instrument is in/out of calibration or in/out of service. Atlas 2002 R1 will be supported on Windows XP, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 98/ME and Windows 2000 clients and Windows NT 4.0, Windows Terminal Server NT SP5 and 2000, and Citrix Metaframe 1.8 servers.

There is more: Thermo LabSystems has additionally released SM-PI, a software solution that interfaces its SampleManager LIMS product with OSIsoft's PI System software, which offers real-time information management functionality for the interactive control of production processes. And its eRecord Manager knowledge management software won the Gold Award in the Pittcon Editors' Award for 2002.

Rapid integration
Another company setting and meeting high standards is Applied BioSystems. Known for its flagship LIMS product, SQL*LIMS (now at version 4.1), the company is now highly active in the genetics field. It has recently announced its ABI PRISM Gene- Mapper High Performance Genotyping software for the 'quick and reliable analysis of data from microsatellite- and SNP-based genotyping'. The software can deal with up to 200,000 genotypes in 24 hours: ideal for laboratories running many instruments at full capacity.

GeneMapper is compatible with the ABI PRISM 310, 377, 3100, and 3700 Genetic Analysers and is also fully compatible with ABI PRISM Linkage Mapping Sets, SNaPshot Multiplex kits and associated GeneScan size standards.

In a joint venture with MDS SCIEX, Applied Biosystems has also released the Pro ICAT software for the API QSTAR Pulsar Hybrid LC/MS system, which allows automatic identification and quantisation of proteins when analysing tandem MS data from ICAT reagent-based proteomics experiments. The software, says the company, is part of an extensive range of products designed to allow proteomics researchers to accelerate protein expression analysis and identify targets for therapy or disease markers more efficiently.

Applied Biosystems makes a very clear statement about its market position. Its systems development strategy is based on 'the early realisation that life science laboratories would suffer bottlenecks in their productivity' as a result of the advent of powerful, high throughput instruments. The company has developed a two-pronged approach in response to this realisation, the first element being to provide flexible software packages that track, analyse and manage data to the standards required by pharmaceutical and QA/QC laboratories, and the second to provide 'Rapid Integration Solutions' (RIS) in which software components are combined with professional services to deliver tailored informatics solutions for integrating and automating an entire laboratory.

All of its RIS offerings, says the company, address gene expression, genotyping, DNA sequencing and proteomics requirements and offer wide-ranging functionality. This includes a complete LIMS for sample, process and results management; complete sample tracking of all parent-child sample relationships; powerful bioinformatics tools for data mining; interfacing of instruments, robots and analysis software; sample and plate tracking; seamless integration of third-party analysis tools; easy, secure multi-user access to all or part of the system; the ability to dynamically generate reports; and the ability to share results between customers/users at different sites.

At least one company buys into the solution: Glaucus Proteomics in the Netherlands, which recently chose Applied Biosystems and Sun Microsystems to create a bioinformatics system for its R&D and production activities at its headquarters near Utrecht. Glaucus develops novel antibody and protein arrays for the identification and characterisation of disease-specific proteins. While on the subject of very busy firms, Labtronics must not escape without a mention. The company has made a number of announcements, including that its LimsLink software will now interface with the NuGenesis Scientific Data Management System (SDMS) providing 'a proven connection to LIMS that can be implemented with minimal configuration'.

Linking and interfacing
LimsLink is designed to provide two-way communications between most major LIMS and external laboratory data sources, such as other software or instrumentation. This particular integration allows researchers to extract analytical results from NuGenesis SDMS and transfer these data to their preferred LIMS system, with a seamless link back to the NuGenesis SDMS repository. (The NuGenesis SDMS manages data in a way that helps pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies meet regulatory requirements.) LimsLink also provides a mechanism for NuGenesis SDMS to capture serial data (from balances, titrators, pH meters, etc.) and store them securely in the NuGenesis database, in parallel with reporting them to the LIMS.

Labtronics has also devised an interface to link the Chromeleon chromatography data management system (from Dionex) with any LIMS system. The solution was developed in a co-operative effort between Labtronics, Dionex, and pharmaceutical company Solutia. It provides secure, bi-directional communication between Chromeleon and any LIMS and has been successfully implemented at Solutia's Aarau, Switzerland site, where it is integrated with three Chromeleon database servers that support about 100 instruments, distributed throughout the site.

The interface communicates directly with Chromeleon and the LIMS without creating additional files outside either application, a critical consideration with respect to 21 CFR Part 11 compliance.

Yet another recent linking solution from Labtronics takes the form of LimsLinkCDS for connecting EZChrom Elite to any LIMS. EZChrom Elite is a Chromatography Data System from Scientific Software, which now benefits from a bi-directional communication channel to any LIMS, also without the creation of additional files. Worklists can be uploaded from the CDS and sample results can be retrieved and delivered directly to the LIMS.

Other news from Labtronics includes the fact that its balance automation solution and data management system BDS meets 21 CFR Part 11 requirements. BDS provides secure and documented control of balance applications and data management, based on the same data management principles as chromatography data systems (CDS). Additional components for regulatory compliance include electronic signatures, password protection and audit trail.

Meanwhile NuGenesis, already in the news for its collaboration with Labtronics, reports some other developments of its own. The company has entered into a strategic alliance with BD Biosciences to provide a data management and archival system for flow cytometry data.

This new data management solution, which promises to increase productivity, will integrate the NuGenesis SDMS with BD Biosciences' technology for flow cytometry data management and analysis. The agreement also calls for BD Biosciences to adopt and sell the NuGenesis SDMS technology to its end users.

More integration
This data management solution could integrate with many other analytical instruments used by the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry that already take advantage of the NuGenesis SDMS technology, including high-performance liquid chromatographs, gas chromatographs, and mass spectrometers,' said Rudy Mareel, of BD Biosciences.

NuGenesis has also announced an 'enhanced level of product integration' with the LabWare LIMS. This integration means that when automating the extraction of data from different types of analytical systems, original instrument reports can be retained and accessed from the LIMS and incorporated into LIMS-generated documents. This is achieved by means of a seamless interface that produces a traceable hyperlink within Lab- Ware LIMS that points back to the original instrument report stored in the NuGenesis SDMS.

LabWare has been up to other things too: it has recently announced a partnership with Northwest Analytical that has delivered an advanced charting module offering high levels of integration. Interactive control charts and trend plots can be easily generated to support statistical quality control (SQC) functions, or to display trends of analytical data over any time interval. Double-clicking any data point or outlier on the chart displays detailed information about the data point from the LIMS.

Finally, a couple more developments deserve a mention. Compex IT of Belgium has released Unilab 4i V 4.3, which has an improved user interface, more advanced web functionality, various other product enhancements and an updated list of supported hardware, O/S and RDBMS platforms. In this version, Compex has also provided a single integrated work environment that gives users access to all authorised lab tasks and allows them to tailor their work environment to conform to their individual needs.

Flexible integration
For contract laboratories looking to improve the cash-flow of their business, Autoscribe has introduced a new pay-as-you-go scheme that provides the configurable Matrix Plus LIMS on a cost/sample basis. The new scheme eliminates the upfront cost of investing in a LIMS while giving immediate access to the benefits of a full LIMS implementation. There are no additional costs for support or system upgrades and Autoscribe promises to work with customers to optimally configure the system to the processes within their laboratories.