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Collect, manage, and process specimens

Need assistance with specimen processing or management?

There is no one size fits all guidance when it comes to managing and processing research specimens. It depends on the type of specimens to be collected, methods needed to collect and process the specimens, and any considerations for future use or sharing of specimens. However, there are facilities and experts available throughout the institution who can help navigate your particular specimen needs. This page will guide researchers to best practices and resources available to develop a plan in which specimens are being collected, managed, and processed in a compliant and consistent manner.

Use the “Related Resources” section for specific policies and guidance that may apply to your project, and consultative services for help with developing your specimen management plans.

 

Access to Service Centers

For research involving specimens, teams are encouraged to first engage with Service Centrers across Duke University and the School of Medicine. Service Centers are managed by Duke research institutes, centers, and cores and often operate on a fee-for-service model.

Service Center personnel may also be able to advise on equipment needs or specimen processing methods for your project.

Access the Find equipment, resources, and Service Centers page to explore the resources available based on your project needs. If you are unsure which core facility or service center is the right fit for your project, contact the Research Navigators.

 

Standard operating procedures and institutional approvals

Prior to collecting any specimens on a project, a plan should be in place for how specimens will be collected, labeled and de-identified (if applicable), appropriately stored, and processed. This can be achieved through the development of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be followed by all researcher personnel who will be involved with the specimens throughout the project.

SOPs should be kept in a central and easily accessible location for all personnel and a plan should be in place for communicating any changes to SOPs. All personnel should also be adequately trained on collection and processing procedures.

Access the Prepare for institutional approvals page to determine any ethics and safety reviews that are needed prior to beginning specimen collection.

 

Managing specimen data

Data management plans are highly useful for developing sound strategies for storing and organizing data about research specimens.  Developing a data management plan includes identifying the software or systems your team will use to store and share specimen data, such as LabArchives electronic research notebook. Additional data storage options and resources can be found on the Determine compute and data storage solutions page. 

Access the Develop the data management plan page for more information about developing a data management plan, including guidance on DMPTool, a program that provides Duke-specific templates for creating a data management plan. 

 

Considerations for future use and sharing of specimens

Plans to retain specimens for use in future research projects should be considered prior to collection to determine appropriate amounts needed and any regulatory concerns. For example, if your project involved human participants and includes plans to retain specimens to contribute to a biorepository or biobank, these plans will need to be included in the informed consent form.

Similarly, if specimens are being shared with outside collaborators or entities, a materials transfer agreement (MTA) may need to be in place, or there may be special considerations for international collaborations.

Access the Navigate contracts and agreements page for more information about material transfer agreements. The “Related Resources” on this page include regulatory guidance and policies regarding specimen use and storage, as well as guidance from the Office of Export Controls on shipping and exporting research materials.