Dr. Russo described LIMS in great detail. Such a system, he said, is designed to organize data produced by a laboratory, allow for easy search and recall, assist with scheduling lab activities, generate useful reports and track measurements (results, limits, errors, and dates), activities (methods, revisions, and schedules), personnel (role, restrictions, and qualifications), and products (name, type, cost, hazards, location, and age).
While LIMS can benefit laboratories greatly, these systems fail half or more of the time, Dr. Russo said. Reasons include not thoroughly understanding the process, starting with a problem that is too big, not having the ability to customize easily, poor identification and sharing of goals, inadequate financial and staff resources, clients not being involved from the beginning, resistance to change, lack of management commitment, and no plan to manage the changeover.
Dr. Russo also detailed the benefits of archiving data in standard formats, which make unrestricted data manipulation possible, provide the ability to retrieve the raw data long after the instrument is gone, and allow the flexibility to display and analyze data using the most appropriate software tool.
Dr. Hamilton talked about lab automation trends over the past several years. "Automation has matured, providing more reliable and sophisticated, but also more expensive systems. The number of technology providers has mushroomed, leading to increased consolidation.
"Early fascination with ever-increasing throughput has shifted to an emphasis on improving the quality and relevance of data, leading to trends such as high-content screening and more targeted, druglike compound synthesis."
Many organizations, according to Dr. Hamilton, find that their R&D structure is not suited to the "industrialized research factory" model. Bottlenecks can appear upstream or downstream, and restructuring has become popular.
Miniaturization has made strides, but not as fast as "overexpected," he said. He detailed hot technologies, showing that some mature ones will still have a double-digit growth rate in the foreseeable future. He discussed some of the newer technologies, such as nano/picoliter liquid handling, noncontact transfer, and high content screening.
Pharmacogenomics and molecular diagnostics are generally considered to be the most significant growth areas for tools and technology.
"Pharmacogenomics and molecular diagnostics have many automated procedures in common," Dr. Hamilton explained. "We're seeing a shift from large automated systems derived from the Human Genome Project to workstation-scale automation.
"Recent advances include better purification directly from whole blood, real-time PCR (rtPCR) for simultaneous amplification and detection, and eventual linking of purification and rtPCR.