2013 CTSI Annual Pilot Awards to Improve the Conduct of Research

To facilitate the development, conduct or analysis of clinical & translational research

Establishment of centalized freezer surveillance system to increase protection of human biospecimens

Proposal Status: 

Rationale: There are currently about 1000 mechanical – 80 degree Celsius freezers in use at UCSF. The majority of these freezers are used to store biomedical specimens for basic research, translational research, clinical trials, and prospective biobanking efforts.       

To protect clinical research material stored in these freezers the performance of the freezers has to be monitored 24/7, and alarm information systems need to be in place informing owners about freezer malfunctions. Currently a central freezer monitoring service is offered through the Alarm Management program of the UCSF police department. The system is based on connecting freezers via a phone line to the police department. This monitoring model has certain disadvantages, such as the fact that it relies on the temperature gauge of the freezer itself (instead of an independent measurement) and the system only triggers an alarm without generating ongoing temperature/performance reports.  

Protection of stored research biospecimens and human samples derived from clinical trials will be increased if a UCSF-wide monitoring system is made available to laboratories and investigators providing alarm surveillance services including constant temperature and energy reporting.  Such a system will also guide preventative maintenance decisions by recording changes in freezer energy consumption over time, further enhancing the protection of stored material by reducing the instances of unexpected freezer malfunctions, and extending the life of the freezer asset.


Plan: Pilot implementation and testing of a remote freezer monitoring/surveillance system enabling investigators/laboratories to connect their freezers independent of campus location to an alarm/monitoring system that provides instant emergency alarm message functions and constant reports about temperature and energy consumption.

Criteria and metrics for success:

  • Usability at all campus locations with Wifi access
  • Liability of the system in recognizing alarm situations and generating alarm messages
  • Liability in generation of data reporting (energy consumption) as guide for required preventative maintenance (further potential for energy-saving maintenance and repairs)

Approximate costs: Currently a system providing such services (klatu networks, TRAXX) is tested by the Facilities Management Group at UC San Diego. This application intends to leverage the ongoing UC San Diego to test whether the system is be suitable for UCSF and also to analyze whether this system could be recommend as standard to be used by all UCs. Estimated cost of establishing a pilot study at UCSF including surveillance and monitoring of 50 freezers are $50,000.

Additionally, implementing a technology that reports out on freezer energy consumption and that triggers maintenance and repairs could have a huge financial impact to UCSF’s bottom line (each low temperature freezer uses about as much energy in a year as a typical house) and part of these costs may be reimbursable in the long run if the system is approved by the California Public Utilities Commission as a viable energy efficiency measure under the UC/CSU/IOU Energy Efficiency Partnership program. The technology is currently under review by the SDG&E Emerging Technologies group, using data from UC San Diego as well as several other SDG&E customers.


Collaborators: Gail Lee (UCSF Facilities Services), Munn Maric (UCSF Facilities Services), Anna Levitt (UC San Diego Facilities Services), Jim Sobczyk (UCSF Campus Life Services “Freezer Farm”), Julie Auger (UCSF Research Resource Program), Britt-Marie Ljung (UCSF Pathology and Cancer Center Tissue Core), Hubert Stoppler (UCSF Cancer Center Tissue Core)


Implementing a system to ensure the integrity of the -80 freezers across the ever growing UCSF campus recognizes the diverse interests of the various banks across the city of SF. This would be an important tool that many investigators will ultimately benefit from.  Thanks for applying for this resource.

This is definitely needed for the proper monitoring of biospecimens.  A wireless system would be a vast improvement of the current system. 


This woud be a good improvement on the current monitoring system.  Costing (start up and long term) would need to be carefully worked out.

Great idea!

great plan! we are excited to hear how the pilot study goes.

Hubert, Do you forsee any training needs to be built in for SRA or lab tech staff with this system? I ask as many techs manage freezer alarms now and I am curious about how we will communicate a possible change effectively to our -80 owners and staff?

Courtney, I believe that training time for individual labs/biorepository to use the system will be minimal and would not needed to be calculated as an additonal expense. I agree, if something like this will be established, it would be very important to make every potential users aware that they would be able to join an existing service offer.

UCSF financial, personnel and resource investiment into the collection of patient biospecimens for research has been substantial, and has allowed for myriad discoveries in many fields. However these resources are vulnerable to complete destruction if not stored and monitored properly.  The proposal put forth by Dr. Stoppler has the potential to significantly strengthen our ability to monitor and protect these resources during storage.  Therefore I strongly support this proposal.

I agree this could be a useful addition to and/or replacement for existing freezer monitoring systems, and the possibility of standardizing this across the multitude of UCSF tissue repositories could improve the security of these precious research resources. This pilot study will offer the opportunity to evaluate the reliability and scalability of this approach to distributed freezer monitoring via wifi. As a point of comparison, the adult hematologic malignancies tissue bank is currently using a wireless freezer alarm system from Accsense. The Accsense system has proven to be somewhat frustrating for a variety of reasons, and it is quite costly. The per-freezer cost for using the Accsense system is ~$1000-2500 depending on several factors, including the proximity of the freezers to one another, and to a required internet-attached gateway, so this proposal by Hubert is definitely price-competitive.

This would also significantly improve our ability to demonstrate reliable temporary storage capacity for clinical trial specimens for industry-sponsored trials.  The lack of such monitoring and surveillance on our freezers has been a limitation in some of our site qualification assessments by potential industry sponsors. 

This is a great idea at a number of levels (sample protection, energy use, cost)...

This freezer monitoring system would be a huge asset to anyone who needs to ensure specimen integrity at UCSF.

This idea is fantastic, in fact it seems downright bizarre that it does not already exist! Our lab stores numerous human samples and we will definitely appreciate the implementation of this freezer system.

Indeed seems like this should have been there already years ago. great idea

This sounds mission critical for the long term succes of our clinical/translational research programs. Creating such a centralized system sounds like it could be much more cost effective than the dept by dept or site by site ad hoc systems currently in place.  It would be a great opportunit to implement common best practices or standards as well.  As departments and programs continue to be geographically spread out, having a centralized group and system that assists with freezer monitoring regardless of site seems all the more important.  Great idea.

Great idea! Much needed.

It would be great to have a thorough, reliable, and cost-effective system to monitor our freezers from any computer. Currently, establishing a small system in isolation or connecting to the UCPD-based system is slow and expensive. It is essential that we protect the biomedical specimens that study participants have provided.

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