Close Up of Brain ScansMurphy’s law states that “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” This truism tragically manifested in 2012 when The Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center experienced a catastrophic freezer malfunction, resulting in the loss of 147 donated brains designated for research. The sad reality is that Harvard is not the only institution that has experienced catastrophic loss, the list goes on. A similar incident occurred recently at a Swedish University following a cryogenic tank failure. With losses estimated at £37 million, this devastating loss set leukemia research back nearly three decades.

Both incidents highlight the vulnerability of scientific research and assets to unforeseen equipment failures and the profound consequences for scientific advancement and capital preservation.


Last updated: February 21, 2024

Freezer Failure Results in Brain Tissue Loss

The stored brain tissues were vital samples for neurological conditions, including autism, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and psychiatric disorders like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. In particular, 54 of these brains were donated by individuals with autism, comprising almost a quarter of the global autism brain samples available at the time. Given the scarcity of brain donations, the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center dedicated nearly 14 years to assembling this collection. The freezer malfunction not only obliterated these irreplaceable samples, experts speculate that the setback could potentially regress autism research by a decade.

“Your display data is WRONG.”

The most unfortunate aspect of this freezer failure is that the freezer in question was monitored by two separate alarms and an external temperature display. The unit was thought to be functioning perfectly since it was checked twice a day by laboratory staff, and it displayed a normal operating temperature of -79°C. On the surface, they followed all recommended safety precautions and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), but they were still unable to mitigate the impending failure.

The absence of sensors and an independent monitoring system left laboratory personnel incapable of accurately gauging the freezer’s true internal temperature. This critical oversight left them powerless to prevent the impending catastrophe.


What Caused The Cold Storage Failure? 

As is usual in these types of incidents, it was a confluence of factors and single points of failure that resulted in such a devastating loss. In hindsight, the absence of internal sensors monitored by an independent system emerges as a critical vulnerability that, if rectified, could have potentially detected the issue in time to avert the sample loss. Independent monitoring systems tailored explicitly for this purpose not only boast superior accuracy compared to the freezer’s built-in temperature gauges but also operate autonomously without depending on equipment.Freezer Failure eBook

Furthermore, while the consolidation of samples into a single location was not the primary catalyst for the loss, it warrants scrutiny. Adherence to GxP standards mandates meticulous sample storage practices, encompassing adequate spatial mapping, adherence to equipment manufacturer guidelines, and avoidance of mass consolidation into a single area. 

Prevent Failure With Freezer Temperature Monitoring 

Research organizations responsible for handling sensitive samples (such as human brains or donor tissue) must implement a robust monitoring system such as XiltriX to safeguard their valuable assets and prevent catastrophic losses. These best-in-class solutions are software-driven, easy to use, centrally managed, and capable of tracking devices from different OEMs and across multiple physical locations. 

Our automated alarm escalation protocol and 24/7 live agents alert customers via email, SMS, and phone, allowing relevant lab personnel to be notified promptly and address issues before assets are at risk. The XiltriX software is accessible via PC, phone, or tablet. It is hosted in the cloud with a redundant architecture and multiple safety layers to ensure reliability and security.

Users can leverage freezer temperature monitoring to obtain real-time and historical data and identify trends and potential areas of risk. Predictive analytics can be used to identify machines or behaviors that are high risk, eliminating problems before they occur and keeping valuable assets safe. Click the button below to schedule a meeting with one of our experts to discover how XiltriX can transform your laboratory.

If you fear your lab is not ready for a lab equipment failure, this is your sign to start preparing


Freezer Failure In The Lab eBook