Karolinska Institutet's Loss Highlights Need for Improved Cold Storage Monitoring in Research Facilities

Leona Leslie
VP Marketing

Karolinska Institutet (KI), one of Europe's leading medical research institutes, faced a catastrophic loss over the Christmas holidays when a malfunction in the cooling system destroyed invaluable research samples collected over decades.

According to reports from Dagens Nyheter and The Guardian, the incident occurred when the automatic nitrogen supply system at KI ceased functioning, leaving crucial cryogenic tanks without the necessary cooling. Despite the tanks being designed to withstand up to four days without additional nitrogen, they were left unattended for five days, resulting in irreparable damage to samples from various research institutions.

Karolinska Institutet Campus Solna
Karolinska Institutet Campus Solna. Photograph: Ulf Sirborn

Assessing the Loss

Initial estimates suggest the loss amounts to 500 million kronor (44 million euros, 38 million pounds), though the true value is difficult to calculate. The samples represented years of dedicated research efforts, particularly impacting studies on diseases like leukemia, where samples from patients spanning three decades were lost.

The news of the incident is likely to cause concern among researchers at other facilities worldwide, prompting them to reassess their own infrastructure and protocols to prevent such an event from happening again.

What Went Wrong with the Monitoring System?

Normally, when the nitrogen flow stopped on the 22nd of December, an automatic alarm would go out; however, it is reported that a process malfunction led to the dispatches not working as they should. While the chain of events that led to the tragedy is still unclear, KI promptly reported the incident to authorities and started an internal investigation to uncover the root cause. Matti Sällberg stated in a comment to Aftonbladet on January 28: “We have to learn from this, it must not happen again.”

How to Prevent Loss in the Future

ICU Scandinavia is a Swedish company that offers temperature monitoring and quality assurance systems for laboratories like the one at KI.

Their innovative monitoring system, Boomerang, uses data from Disruptive Technologies sensors for cloud-based environmental monitoring and data logging. Providing data points such as temperature, humidity, and O2 levels, such a system could have averted the catastrophe by providing an accurate and early warning of system malfunctions linked directly to the conditions within and around the storage equipment.

With automatic alarms triggered by deviations from preset levels, responsible staff would have received instant notifications on their smartphones or computers, allowing swift intervention to prevent the loss of invaluable research samples.

All events, as well as the handling of alarms, are logged in the software. One of the key features of Boomerang is Audit Trail, which ensures traceability in accordance with Good Manufacturing Practice and Good Laboratory Practice.

Easily Retrofit Existing Infrastructure

Because the solution uses compact, wireless sensors, it can be used to easily retrofit laboratory facilities. With no complicated installation procedures, institutes can effortlessly integrate the system into their existing equipment, providing instant access to critical environmental data without significant investment.

"Our partnership with ICU Scandinavia provides a cost-effective solution to safeguard valuable research assets," stated Bengt Lundberg, CEO of Disruptive Technologies. "With our wireless temperature sensors and ICU Scandinavia's monitoring platform, institutions can receive real-time alerts, empowering them to take preemptive measures and avoid catastrophic losses."

Sten Drakenberg, CEO at ICU Scandinavia elaborates, “Ensuring the accuracy of data and reliability of alerts in safeguarding research assets in high-stakes environments like research laboratories is critical. False alarms or unreliable notifications can create mistrust and uncertainty in the work routine. If employees regularly receive false alerts, they may become desensitized to genuine warnings, increasing the risk of overlooking critical issues.

Similarly, if vital information is not routed to the appropriate personnel through the right channels, there's a heightened chance of it being disregarded or mishandled. That's why our parameter logging system, Boomerang, prioritizes accuracy and traceability, delivering timely alerts directly to responsible personnel via SMS, phone, or app. This ensures that proactive measures can be taken swiftly to mitigate potential risks and prevent disasters like the one witnessed at Karolinska Institutet."

Moving Forward

The incident at Karolinska Institutet serves as a sobering reminder of the fragility of scientific endeavors and the need for robust monitoring systems to protect invaluable research assets. As the scientific community reflects on this tragedy, it's imperative to embrace proactive measures to ensure the integrity and continuity of research efforts for generations to come.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Wireless Temperature Sensor

Measure Temperature Anywhere

Designed to measure temperature accurately across diverse environments, the Wireless Temperature Sensor transmits the data to the cloud via a Cloud Connector.
Learn MoreLearn More

Get Started

Ready to take the next step? Contact us for more information, sign up for a Studio account to see the data in action, or order your own customized sensor Starter Kit.
Get Started