Send to printer »

Corporate Profile : Feb 15, 2011 (Vol. 31, No. 4)

Safeguarding Biological Specimen Integrity

BioCision's CoolTech Products Designed to Cool or Freeze Samples at Uniform Temperatures
  • Carol Potera

Whether you work in discovery, preclinical, or clinical research, your results are only as meaningful as the quality of the collected samples. Even today, many biological specimens are placed in ice buckets, “a cooling method from the Middle Ages,” says Rolf Ehrhardt, Ph.D., M.D., CEO at BioCision. His company designs, manufactures, and markets modular benchtop tools that cool or freeze biomedical samples at a uniform temperature.

While working as a scientist at several biotech companies and the NIH, Dr. Ehrhardt was frustrated by the lack of standardization in collecting, handling, and storing samples. He found that the methods for cooling and freezing vary from sample to sample, researcher to researcher, and clinic to clinic. So, three years ago, he started BioCision to improve these common, yet overlooked, sample-handling procedures. Collaborations with biomedical engineers led to the company’s adaptive thermal-conductive alloy technology platform.

“To improve sample handling in the biomedical field, we apply precision engineering,” says Dr. Ehrhardt.

BioCision’s first products were made from a novel aluminum alloy that is 300 times more conductive than ice and adapts rapidly to the temperature of any freezing or cooling medium. The CoolRack™ line includes thermal conductive racks that hold tube or plate samples of different sizes to standardize temperature control right at the benchtop.

CoolRacks are portable, versatile, and can be used with ice, dry ice, liquid nitrogen, water bath, or heat block. Regardless of the well position, each sample is kept at the same temperature. CoolRacks can be moved from ice to water bath simultaneously, and the temperature shift stays constant for all samples.

Temperature differentials of several degrees occur between samples stored in ice buckets. In CoolRacks, the temperature is very even. “This is important biologically and clinically for temperature labile biomarkers,” says Dr. Ehrhardt. CoolRacks are ideal for medium to large collaborations and multisite clinical trials to insure that all samples are frozen or cooled identically. Users can only insert samples in one way, eliminating variations and errors.

“Patients samples can be worth tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the drug being tested and the cost of recruiting patients.”

Ice-Free Cool Systems

To cool or freeze samples without ice, CoolRacks are paired with the company’s CoolBox™. This system uses cartridges to cool or freeze samples at the benchtop or in biosafety cabinets, tissue culture hoods, or GMP suites where ice poses potential contamination problems.

The cartridge contains a gel pack with a novel thermo-conductive alloy shell that quickly recharges in standard laboratory freezers. The cartridge keeps samples at an even temperature at the workbench for five to eight hours before needing to be replaced. Researchers remain at the lab bench instead of walking to and from freezers and ice machines. The cartridge can be replaced with dry ice, and benchtop samples can be snap frozen in less than 30 seconds, without the need for alcohol.

The CoolBox PCR96 and CoolBox PCR384 system kits each include one CoolBox microplate with lid, one CoolRack PCR (either 96- or 384-well) and one cooling cartridge. CoolRack PCR quickly equilibrates to +2°C with less than 0.1° variation between wells, according to Dr. Ehrhardt.

In September 2010, BioCision released the modular CryoPrep System for freezing cells. CryoPrep combines CoolBox and CoolRack with CoolCell. The system makes it easy to cryopreserve primary cells, stem cells, yeast, cord blood, or other cells efficiently and with high reproducibility.

CoolCell holds 12 screw-cap 2 mL cryotubes and a solid thermal core for consistent, controlled cell freezing at -80°C. CoolCells release only one-third of the heat given off by alcohol-filled containers, so samples previously stored in the freezer do not warm. Up to 30 cryo vials can be kept cool using CoolRack and CoolBox, and 12 samples can be frozen in each CoolCell.

Researchers at BioCision demonstrated that samples stored in standard 96-well plates placed on ice vary by 3°C, compared to less than 1° in CoolRacks. Seeing such data helps to convince customers to buy the benchtop sample-preparation products, according to the company.

Standardized sample handling “is like a neglected child,” Dr. Ehrhardt says, but attention is growing worldwide. “The lack of standardized, high-quality biospecimens has been widely recognized as one of the most significant roadblocks to the progress of cancer research,” according to NCI, which recently established the Office of Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research to resolve the issue.