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How Digital Data Management Is Transforming Next-Generation Sequencing

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Next-generation sequencing (NGS) has revolutionized science by significantly increasing the speed and volume of data that can be generated for a given genome. The breadth of applications and scale at which sequencing can be performed have expanded at a rate faster than could ever have been imagined using previous technologies. While sequencing the human genome once took years, today this process can be completed in around an hour. The faster, cheaper and more powerful this technology becomes, the greater its impact on academic, industrial and clinical research applications.

As NGS technologies have become more affordable, there has been a shift away from outsourcing projects using service providers and towards the greater adoption of in-house sequencing capabilities. NGS offers a wealth of opportunities for research organizations: allowing laboratories to maintain full control over workflows, helping to accelerate downstream processes and reducing overall development timelines. However, creating optimized processes that consistently generate high-quality results can be challenging. Without reliable data on the performance of sequencing workflows, improving flawed processes can be difficult.

The digital transformation of NGS

Maintaining full visibility over instrument performance, quality control, sample tracking and sequencing run measurements is essential for productive and efficient NGS operations. For example, information from instrument validation checks or quality control data can be used to optimize performance and boost efficiency. Analyzing the data that’s collected across every stage of the process allows NGS laboratories to drive improvements by eliminating potential bottlenecks before they arise.

The latest cloud-based data management solutions enable organizations to automatically collect and capture information about NGS processes. Using a single, integrated laboratory information management system (LIMS), laboratories can associate samples, instruments, materials and projects to drive the more accurate collection, processing and reporting of data. As a result, every step in an NGS workflow can be connected to provide comprehensive visibility over the entire process and ease sharing between groups. This can be used to streamline workflows and improve the quality of key outcomes. By incorporating all of this data into a unified system, cloud-based digital platforms make information readily accessible by any user, anywhere.

Digital applications built into a LIMS can improve workflow management, data access, storage, reporting and sharing; all of which are essential to accomplish research and commercial goals. Applications can be utilized across the complete workflow, giving users more control over each step. Pre-configured applications for library preparation kits and sequencers, for example, can interface with quality control systems and integrate with data analysis to automatically convert raw data into useful insight.

These data management solutions not only provide organizations with better decision-making capabilities, but can also be used to guide process improvements. The integration of all workflows and resulting data into a LIMS allows users to assess the performance of any process. Newfound perspectives can then help labs better adapt to NGS demand.

NGS and the cloud   

Of course, while labs can put in place robust processes, these can only be as effective as the users who execute them. Implementing a cloud-based LIMS can help organizations to foster internal channels of communication to ensure that the value of the overall process is recognized by all of the individuals who make up the team. Ensuring the free flow of information and allowing full visibility of workflows and performance can be very effective ways of bringing researchers together to create a supportive environment in which goals can be achieved.

Many organizations rightly see a strategic advantage in building their own sequencing capabilities to support their NGS applications. With the need to employ specific and detailed workflows that generate reliable and high-quality data, labs can benefit from applying cloud-based LIMS to NGS processes. By synthesizing data, instruments and processes using a cloud-based digital platform, laboratory workflows can operate efficiently, allowing organizations to focus on conducting the research and delivering the results that could drive further developments in this exciting field.