Monthly Archives: January 2017

Committing to Lab Safety Culture, from the Top Down

Top DownA few weeks ago, we read a very thought-provoking American Chemical Society editorial by Carolyn Bertozzi. The ACS aims to “be the world’s most trusted source of the comprehensive knowledge needed to cultivate the chemists of tomorrow” and we think that articles like Bertozzi’s certainly pave the way toward that goal.

What resonated most with us about this editorial, is the focus on how lab safety culture needs to be embraced and enforced from the top down.

Focusing Beyond the Accident Spotlight

As Bertozzi outlines, 2016 saw too many serious laboratory accidents. From China to Germany, North Dakota to Texas, researchers and students have been killed or injured in a variety of explosions that have been costly on too many levels. April was a particularly deadly month, with 42 people killed and 147 injured because of a massive fire at Jubail United Petrochemical in Saudi Arabia and an explosion at a Pemex vinyl chloride plant in Mexico.

The ACS editorial quickly moves beyond the headlines, however, to ask serious questions about how researchers can focus more purposefully on lab safety practices. Focusing on academic institutions, it lays out some ideas that are critical for safety in any research lab, no matter the industry or circumstance.

Implementing a Lab Safety Culture

The article suggests that the needed “ingredients for a positive safety culture” is a top-down commitment to lab safety. Bertozzi quotes George Whitmyre, a retired lab safety specialist, who says that “laboratory safety programs only work when [there is] serious commitments from Regents, Presidents, CEOs, upper management, and even PIs.”

Various steps are suggested that leaders can take to embrace and enforce a lab safety culture. These include:

  • Reading MSD sheets prior to setting up any experiment
  • Discussing specific safety elements with everyone involved and assessing the potential risks of each experiment
  • Consulting with health and safety experts whenever a doubt or question arises
  • Reviewing procedures (what to do, whom to notify) in case an accident occurs
  • Wearing personal protective equipment
  • Never working alone in any research lab

Making Lab Safety Everyone’s Responsibility

PIs do have a lot of responsibility when it comes to creating and implementing a lab safety culture, but they are not the only ones. Lab safety needs to be everyone’s responsibility in order to prevent the types of horrific accidents that occurred last year. Regardless of where you fall in the organizational structure, lab safety is your responsibility.

Here are some ways that Bertozzi believes this can be accomplished:

  • Publicly prioritize safety
  • Never condone lax or unsafe practices
  • Start every meeting with a “Safety Minute” that includes both news on accidents and information on new safety ideas
  • Teach how to implement Integrated Safety Management
  • Employ highly skilled EH&S personnel and encourage them to interact collaboratively with lab personnel
  • Accept responsibility for systemic failures
  • If you work in an academic setting, where you are training the next generation of researchers, hold hands-on sessions to introduce lab safety techniques

Leverage Your Position

Regardless of your place in the hierarchy of your lab, it’s up to you to do whatever is in your power to make decisions that will contribute to strengthening the culture of safety. If you write the schedules, take the necessary steps to ensure no one is ever in the lab alone. If you stock the supplies, make sure there is never a shortage of personal safety equipment.

Naturally, we would add one thing to Bertozzi’s list:

  • Furnish your lab with dedicated lab furniture

If you’re the person who furnishes the lab, making informed decisions about the quality and safety of the dedicated lab furniture you purchase can go a long way in protecting the life of your instruments as well as the lives of those working in your lab.

Get in touch with us today to learn more—because in order for Bertozzi’s ideas to work, everyone needs to take ownership.

Celebrating 2016’s Mass Spectrometry Life Sciences Breakthroughs

possibleFolks in scientific communities around the world are looking ahead to the challenges and eventual breakthroughs that await them this year. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we’d like to look back and celebrate the achievements of the previous year. We know that our dedicated lab furniture supported (literally!) thousands of different mass spectrometry projects in 2016.

Here are some prolific life sciences breakthroughs that occurred last year with the help of mass spec technology:

Bio-printed Kidney Tissue Avoids Renal Toxicity

3D printing continues to transform lives across the globe in a magnificent variety of ways. In 2016, Organovo bio-printed synthetic human tissue that can model complex organ toxicity. This allows for more accurate drug-response testing without the variations that occur with species-species variations or limited kidney functionality. The native human structure provides optimal transporter activity and cellular function, enabling a close study for multiple weeks of both architecture and biological responses.

The bio-printed tissue-like complexity supports the detection of injury, compensation, and recovery.

Leveraging Lipids to Predict Outcomes

Mass spectrometry is useful only if you know what markers to measure. In late 2016, a group of scientists published their life science work with burn patients, revealing a connection between lipidomics and clinical outcomes. They discovered that adipose tissue functions enhance hypermetabolism in traumatic situations, identifying specific free fatty acids which were initially measured at acutely elevated levels and slowly returned to baseline status over time. Impaired acute response in unsaturated free fatty acids was found in patients with greater burn severity or increased age. Furthermore, a significant elevation of saturated and mono-unsaturated free fatty acids correlated with increased mortality.

Mass spectrometry lipidomics can consequently indicate critical diagnostic outcomes in burn patients.

Two Steps Forward in Tackling the Zika Virus

The Zika Virus was attacked on multiple fronts in 2016, and mass spectrometry’s role in this life science puzzle proved highly beneficial. Development is underway for a rapid diagnostic tool that will both detect and confirm the presence of Zika within a small blood or saliva sample. Using a similar protocol that detects HIV/AIDS, scientists are splitting the sample for antibody detection as well as molecular amplification. Since the Zika genetic profile degrades quickly, amplification provides the possibility of prolonging detection through analytical sensitivity.

On the treatment side of this life science equation, Purdue University researchers have mapped the structure of the Zika virus, which has similarities to and is often confused with the dengue virus. Utilizing cryo-electron microscopy, researchers have discovered potential areas of the virus that could lead to antiviral or antibody treatment development options as well as providing keys for distinguishing Zika from dengue.

Mass Spectrometry Aids with Beta Cell Regrowth

Diabetes research provided our final life science breakthrough for 2016. Beta cells store and release insulin within the body, and Joslin Diabetes Center research, aided by mass spectrometry, has revealed that SerpinB1 regenerates beta cells within the body. Furthermore, SerpinB1 is produced by the liver, meaning that this process exists natively within the body. Synthetic SerpinB1 has also proven to stimulate beta cells in laboratory conditions, paving the way for drug discovery and a practical application for patients who are living with diabetes.

Of course, none of these groundbreaking achievements would have been possible without critical thinking and the creative application of mass spectrometry to serve real-world life sciences problems. We applaud the hard-working researchers in each of these cases and hope that they are trusting their mass specs to strong, safe, dedicated lab furniture like ours.

To join the ranks of those doing the same, contact us today.

Avoiding Four Dangerous Types of Damage with Dedicated Lab Furniture

control-qualityLab work can be a messy business, even in a sterile environment, and lab benches can really take a beating. When it comes to keeping your expensive equipment and precious projects safe, there are four big reasons why you cannot expect inexpensive lab furniture to perform as well as high-quality dedicated lab benches.

Weighty Work

The expensive equipment and machinery in your lab weigh a lot. Imagine for a moment how it would feel to hold a machine weighing anywhere from 400-700 pounds, constantly, day after day. Lab furniture never gets a break from gravity, so it must be built to stand immense amounts of pressure—the sort of pressure that will crush any of the cheaper department store furniture you might try to convert into lab benches.

Sure, you can find a metal trolley on wheels that claims to be able to move a thousand pounds—but it’s not just the structure of the bench that matters. Wheels can flatten over time, especially if they aren’t moved frequently. The rubber the wheels are made of gets stiff and when it’s time to move your equipment around, it will crack, and allow the air to escape. Scooting that half-ton machine around on useless, flat wheels is difficult, and the vibrations caused by doing so can cause irreparable damage to your mass spectrometer or other equipment.

Gouging and Dents

There are other dangers involved with moving your expensive instruments around the lab. Most lab instruments rest on rubber feet which are intended to minimize vibration and aren’t so much concerned with protecting the surface of the furniture below. Sliding them around eventually wears out the rubber feet, and scratches and dents are likely to result in the laminate surface of the furniture—or worse, the laminate could pull away from the base material altogether. This leaves room for dirt and bacteria to nestle in and take up residence.

Solvents and Surfaces

Tearing the laminate opens the door to yet another problem with cheaper lab benches. Sure, you can get a bench with a chemically resistant surface, since solvents are often corrosive. But if you get even the smallest tear in your laminate, it will allow spilled solvents to seep between the laminate and the base material on your lab furniture. This will prove nearly impossible to clean and eventually eat away at the bench surface, destroying it.

Handling the Heat

This last danger is an element that gets below the surface of your lab bench. If you choose a cheaper bench for your mass spec, you’re probably going to find yourself constructing your own acoustic cabinet for those noisy vacuum pumps. The problem is that the materials in many foams and glues can’t stand the heat generated by vacuum pumps. Over time, those materials will degrade, causing the foam to fall apart and the glue to separate. In a worst-case scenario, falling foam could even cause a fire when it hits your vacuum pumps, creating a serious lab safety issue.

How Our Dedicated Lab Furniture Stands Up to Wear and Tear

Now that we’ve got you worried, we want to reassure you that none of these issues are insurmountable. We’ve carefully addressed each of these problems with IonBench dedicated lab furniture. It comes with solidly built, lockable casters and a weight capacity of 440 kilograms or 970 pounds. The laminate work surface is designed without joints and an epoxy resin work surface upgrade is available. Our built-in vacuum pump enclosure is designed to take the heat and even comes with a temperature alarm.

We are also happy to provide you with tips for prolonging your investment. So connect with us for information and answers to your questions about how dedicated lab furniture can improve safety and reliability in your laboratory.