Sample management in medical and biological laboratories is increasingly challenging as the number of samples grows along with the advances in analytical technologies. Especially within small-to-medium-size Research & Development (R&D) laboratories, finding and establishing a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) capable of adapting to the various, frequently changing requirements is critical.

MAPS (Material Administration and Preparation System) is a new concept of LIMS, which tries to meet these requirements with an innovative data model as well as a modern service-oriented architecture on top of state-of-the-art web technologies.

Data Representation

MAPS uses a hybrid data representation strategy which tries to benefit from the advantages of structured data storage and document management. Every material and every container – these are the two central storage items – can be described by an arbitrary number of documents, which themselves consist of an unrestricted number of attributes. This hybrid data organization comes with the flexibility of document management to store any type of information, and the strictness of structured data storage to preserve data consistency and integrity.

System Customization

MAPS is customized via a graphical administration user interface, which allows the specification of container types and geometries (racks, boxes, plates, vials, tubes, etc.), of material types (DNA, RNA, blood, tissue, etc.), and of consumable supplies, amongst others.

Laboratory processes and standard operating procedures are defined with a set of graphical wizards supporting this step. Both, manual and robotics-driven task definitions are supported, including the possibility to specify lab-specific mapping protocols and command file generation.

Technologies for Integration

MAPS comes with three different technologies to integrate legacy systems, application software, and external devices.

First, there is a data abstraction module, which simulates the expected data model to a legacy system or analysis software, whose data repository partly overlaps with that of MAPS and whose complete data storage requirements can be fulfilled by the underlying database.

Second, MAPS is able to use JMS (Java Messaging Service) to communicate with external software or devices. JMS is an open messaging standard and therefore supported by many vendors to facilitate message exchange between integrated systems.

Third, MAPS offers a SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) interface which offers services to query information on samples stored within the LIMS as well as to enter new samples into the system. These services can also be made available across organizational borders, so that, for example, customers are able to query information about their samples via Internet.

Extending the Basic System

MAPS comes with a proprietary query interface allowing to query the database for any kind of stored information as well as to create reports from these data. The user can add new queries for search and report generation with the administration component described above. In this way, users can immediately react to upcoming or changing reporting needs.

The most powerful interface is the Plugin mechanism providing access to the core functionality of MAPS. This Plugin Interface allows a Java developer to hook into the core MAPS services and to add new functionality to the system. This can either be extensions to the graphical user interface (like customized data import or export dialogs) or services being scheduled for iterative execution in the background of the core system.