From Coriell to the World: A Q&A With Coriell’s Shipping Expert


Tom Schneider

For decades, Coriell has supplied the world’s scientists with the biosamples necessary for their research. We built the collections under our roof in collaboration with federal and private partners and have earned a reputation for offering biosamples of only the highest quality.

But all the scientific know-how in the world doesn’t help if we can’t get a sample or product safely out our doors and to your lab. For that, we have our skilled Biobanking Logistics team, and our shipping expert, Tom Schneider.

Tom has worked at the Coriell Institute for more than 30 years and has led the team responsible for shipping for at least 15. He has shipped more than 100,000 packages in his time and he shares some insight into the process below.

Can you describe the scope of Coriell’s sample distribution?

We use various courier services to ship out packages weekly, both domestically and internationally. These shipments include a wide range of biological specimens, including cell cultures and DNA. The majority of these packages are shipped at ambient (room temperature), but we also ship samples using dry ice or cold packs. Of course, this means that we use shipping containers of all sizes, depending on the number of samples being shipped and at what temperature the recipients request to receive them.

Coriell ships all over the world. How do you ensure samples are safe across the sea and through customs?

All biological specimens are packaged according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations. All employees involved in the shipping of the samples are trained via an IATA certified course and we must be recertified every two years. This ensures that all packages picked up by the courier services will be safe via air travel, without any delays in delivery. 

As a backup plan, for packages that are unexpectedly held up—in customs for example—there are services that we contract with will find the package and top it off with dry ice if needed.

While we work on packaging and determining the right time to ship an order, Customer Service is organizing all permits and other documentation needed for the receiving country. It’s a real team effort.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected distribution?

The IATA regulations are carefully detailed—rightfully so—so our procedures at Coriell are largely the same.

The pandemic has affected our ability to ship to certain countries at certain times. This has been country-specific when their borders close due to governmental decisions. This occurred early in the pandemic, but shipments have steadily increased as countries have been able to re-open their borders. And Coriell has remained “open for business” throughout—we have not shut down and have continued to provide samples for any researcher that makes a request. 

What might surprise a customer about the shipping process?

We’re much different than most online businesses. Shipping at Coriell is a team sport. When an order is placed at Coriell, nearly the whole Institute is involved with their order/shipment.

The typical order process goes:

  • The Customer Support Department receives the order
  • Supervising scientists to give special approval, if needed
  • The Biobanking Logistics Department retrieves the samples from storage
  • The Cell Culture or Molecular Biology laboratories culture or pack the samples
  • The Biobanking Logistics Department packages and seals the orders and then ships them using in-house courier shipping systems
  • Finally the sample moves onto the Shipping/Receiving Department who organizes the shipments and transfers the packages to a courier

Much more than the action of just a shipping department!

You've become the shipping/distribution expert at Coriell. What's most interesting to you about biosample distribution?

We ship our samples to all continents (excluding Antarctica) and not just to major research institutions, but to smaller labs as well. I know the orders we send out are being used to conduct important research literally all over the world!

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