OKLAHOMA CITY – Working at room temperature is something Joel Guthridge does just like the rest of office working Oklahoma.
But as Research Director of the Bio Repository at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, he oversees places that can get much, much colder.
Pointing to a lab tech working with dozens of small vials, Guthridge describes, “We’re putting bar codes on them. Those will eventually end up in the cryo-storage areas.”
“Usually,” he continues. “We receive around 40 new samples every week.”
So how do you keep cells in a box from going bad for as long as thirty years?
“We call ourselves the ‘honest brokers,'” he says. “We are the gatekeeper on whether a sample is going to be able to be used for a particular study or not.”
Lab personnel like Danny Walker have a couple of options located within the many hallways at OMRF.
The coldest lies inside big tanks of liquid nitrogen.
“We have room in our liquid nitrogen tanks for 200,000 samples,” says Guthridge.
Carefully catalogued, these vials may hold the key to curing an auto immune disease like Lupus or illnesses like malaria.
Guthridge says, “We’ve already got collections for about 30 different studies now.”
In a nondescript floor here, through locked doors, lies one of the largest freezers of its kind in the U.S.
Thousands of cubic feet of storage space were built here where a million and a half samples lie waiting for further study.
Guthridge makes sure these freezers, their backups, and the backups to the backups are running at all times.
“Big freezer motors, several of them,” says Joel as we walk through a huge machine room full of compressors and cooling units.
Getting to an area that’s at a constant -80 degrees Centigrade requires suiting up in winter gear.
Danny Walker, who spends more time in the deep freeze than anyone at OMRF, says, “If you sit still for a little while and your fingers start to freeze up, that’s when you know it’s time to take a break.
Each of these boxes represents a person who consented to give a blood sample and be part of an important medical study.
In here, in one of the coldest parts of Oklahoma, they are kept safe, their secrets locked away just waiting to be brought to light.
The OMRF Bio Repository is one of only 20 such facilities in the United States.
To learn more about what they do in the cold go to http://omrf.org/2016/12/01/36931/