Freezer Failure Wipes Out Decades of Research Samples

Cryogenic tanks at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet lost supply of liquid nitrogen over Christmas
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 7, 2024 2:50 PM CST
Freezer Failure Wipes Out Decades of Research Samples
A view of Karolinska Institutet's Science Park, dated July 3, 2013.   (Wikimedia Commons/I99pema)

Sweden's Karolinska Institutet experienced the very opposite of a Christmas gift in December: the destruction of research samples gathered over decades and worth millions. Samples from multiple institutions were stored at -190 degrees Celsius in 16 cryogenic tanks at the Stockholm medical university when the supply of liquid nitrogen was interrupted at some point on Dec. 22 or 23, the Guardian reports. The tanks can preserve samples without additional liquid nitrogen for four days, according to the outlet. Unfortunately, the failure was discovered one day too late.

"It happened at possibly the absolute worst time imaginable in Sweden, just one day before Christmas Eve," Matti Sällberg, dean of KI's southern campus, said in a Monday statement. Media outlets put the value of the samples around $47 million, per the Guardian. Sällberg said an official estimate had not been completed but estimated the value in the millions of dollars. The university is investigating. Sällberg noted police had been notified, though "there is no indication that it was due to outside influence."

He said researchers exploring leukemia treatments are "worst affected," apparently having lost samples gathered from patients over 30 years. "These are samples that have been the subject of extensive studies," Sällberg said, noting more studies were planned. According to WION, the samples were exclusively used for research, meaning their loss will "not affect the ongoing care of patients." (Cryogenic tanks holding pricey cattle sperm were stolen last year.)

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