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Jan 15, 2011 (Vol. 31, No. 2)

Overcoming Lab Automation Challenges

Flexibility Is Essential as There Is No Such Thing as One-Size-Fits-All Instrumentation

  • The Medium Is the Message

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    Tecan and Miltenyi Biotec are working together to develop a range of automated solutions for cell biology, based on MACS® magnetic bead technology. According to the partners, this agreement will allow customers to benefit from the capabilities of Tecan’s Freedom EVO® liquid-handling platforms when performing a wide range of analytical processes.

    Veit Bergendahl, Ph.D., head of R&D for cell culture technology at Miltenyi Biotec, will speak about the challenges of culturing live cells in the face of heterogeneity of living systems and the high variability inherent in assays, cell growth, and differentiation.

    “The tall challenge for automation is to integrate tools for process control and software capable of feedback loops and scheduling. Most laboratory automation equipment was originally designed to fit the needs of chemical screening,” he notes.

    “But the demands of biological material and cells often challenge current formats. Limitations become apparent in tasks like maintaining sterility, flexibility (optimizing for different cell lines or applications), accommodating biological buffers (which can often be abrasive to equipment), or delivering volumes larger than 5 mL.”

    This past summer, Tecan and Miltenyi entered into an agreement based on Miltenyi’s MACS® magnetic-bead technology and Tecan’s Freedom EVO® liquid-handling platforms. Tecan has integrated Miltenyi Biotec’s MultiMACS™ Separator biomolecular and cellular separation devices onto the deck of the EVO instrument and has developed software to accommodate Miltenyi Biotec’s systems, including the autoMACS® Pro Separator, gentleMACS™ Dissociator, and MACSQuant® Analyzer.

    Miltenyi Biotec’s philosophy is to explore bidirectional benefits of automation: to apply automation in support of primary cell culture (improving the quality of cells by bringing in standardization and reproducibility to automated processes), and to systematically develop new specialty media by using screens, “taking advantage of what we’ve learned with HTS and small molecule screening in order to develop optimal cell culture media, rather than the time-consuming task of discretely testing different compounds with known effects,” Dr. Bergendahl says.

    “The big challenge is to come up with good assays that monitor quality or can verify that a particular component improves culture. To bring in automation to this development is not yet common.”

    The importance of this is obvious when acknowledging the goal to avoid the uncharacterized nature of undefined serum components and preemptively realizing that “a lot of these techniques will eventually go toward clinical applications, so we try to develop media that have the potential to then be produced under GMP guidelines with the qualities necessary for clinical application,” says Dr. Bergendahl.

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