What is Causing Pipette Tip Shortages and How to Fix It?

Laboratories run on pipette tips. These throwaway pieces of plastic may appear simple, but they are crucial to keeping a lab operational. This fact is never more evident than when there is a shortage.

Pipette tips are instrumental in performing critical lab tests – from lifesaving screenings to COVID tests to cancer research. Without them, our healthcare system simply wouldn’t run. And today, due to looming shortages, many labs are out of tips, have tips on backorder, or are experiencing extreme price increases.

How did we get here? How can one of the industry’s most critical resources become so endangered?

The normal life cycle for a plastic pipette tip begins with the oil industry. Petroleum, once extracted, is shipped to processing plants that change the hydrocarbon fossil fuel into polypropylene plastic pellets, which is the rigid material that makes up a pipette tip. The pellets are then sent to companies like Eppendorf, Tecan, Beckmann, Starlab, and Hamilton to be molded into specific pipette tips. The tips are then packaged and transported worldwide to various laboratories to be used for medical testing.

The pipette tip is used to draw up the exact amount of sample needed for a specific laboratory assay or test. A lab instrument can require anywhere from 4 to 15 pipette tips per test. Generally used one time, the plastic pipette tip is discarded in a biohazard waste bin, and most likely ends up in a landfill.

The convoluted and environmentally harmful journey a pipette takes before arriving in a lab is riddled with complexity and unnecessary opportunities for something to delay the process. In February of 2021, as an example, record cold weather and winter storms hit Texas and led to increased energy demands and blackouts. ExxonMobil and other petroleum companies based in Texas were forced to temporarily close due to inclement weather, decreasing raw materials needed for pipette tip production, increasing product scarcity, and driving up prices in an already stressed economy due to COVID. Less workforce meant greater delays in shipping times.

As a result of supply chain disruptions, labs around the world had to prioritize certain assays. The first tests to be cut were related to research, delaying the development of new lifesaving medications. Those assays that could not be shelved still faced delays, and delays can lead to irreversible harm or even death.

The delays that today’s healthcare system has faced are not only problematic for the lab but they have real-world consequences. Before leaving the hospital, as an example, a newborn is screened for at least 30 different rare genetic disorders. Usually, the results of the panel are known before leaving the hospital so that interventions can take place to optimize the newborn’s health. But an investigation into turn-around time for neonatal screenings showed that some families were sent home to wait for results to free up hospital beds. This led to babies becoming ill, and in some cases, dead.

In the wake of the pipette shortage, labs have had to get creative, such as setting up social media channels for conserving pipette tips and ways to source them when in desperate need. Regardless of the production capacity for these tips, manufacturers often report that they cannot keep up with the demand and that the cost of raw materials related to petroleum and associated shipping cost are extremely high on their end.

These confounding factors have created the perfect storm, one in which the cost of pipette tips has spiked by approximately 50% more today than before the supply chain shortage. Laboratories, meanwhile, are wondering when the next calamity will happen that will cause more delays.

Labs, however, have an option to exert control over an increasingly out-of-control situation. Grenova provides the only patented and scientifically proven technology capable of washing and reusing pipette tips, helping make labs sustainable, efficient, and resilient to supply chain disruptions.

Over 100 million pipette tips have been washed and reused by Grenova’s automated product line, enabling labs to reuse plastic pipette tips numerous times, cutting associated consumable costs by up to 96%. Grenova’s technology is used in CAP and CLIA-approved labs on multiple assays without carryover. In addition, they are implemented in the NIH, NCI, and CDC.

With something as critically integral as the pipette tip, Grenova products can help your lab mitigate supply chain shortages, and cease worrying about running out of pipette tips ever again. Contact us today to request a demo

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