The company had a large robotics storage facility for compounds stored at -20°C, but there were some novel challenges around the -80°C storage required for biofluids. “When you are physically pulling samples from a -80°C freezer to a
-20°C freezer environment, there is a temperature flux, and that’s a huge delta,” says Johnson. “Our challenges were minimizing that temperature flux, the condensation issues of working in New England, and the transition of samples in and out of the freezers.”
The company partnered with REMP, a Tecan Group company, to develop software to accommodate picking an order across multiple storage racks and across multiple freezers.
The robotic freezers monitor the upper and lower operational limit and will close the freezer door when the freezer is warming outside of the set limits. “Any given rack for any different sample order has to be modulated by those temperature constraints; we’ve set a five degree delta. REMP built complicated algorithms for the robot to be able to go to another freezer, pick a sample, go back to a different freezer, open the door, and continue,” notes Johnson. Software flexibility enables users to tighten or loosen the tolerances according to throughput.
Another challenge was the migration of legacy samples. Some samples were received in different size tubes with different tops, variable volumes, and assorted concentrations. This required the development of robotics to hold different tube types, different cappers and decappers, and handle variable volumes. Biofluid samples are defrosted once; multiple replicates are pre-aliquoted and placed in sealed tubes at -80°C. When the customer orders them, they are in single-use tubes, which helps maintain their integrity.
Amphora Discovery (www.amphoracorp.com) recently shifted its focus as an internal drug discovery company to a screening services company. The company originally assembled a flexible compound-management system because its technology was a bit different from the standard technologies being used, explained John K. Dickson, Ph.D., director of chemistry and compound services. “We knew that, as we grew, we would need to supply compounds to a variety of different internal organizations such as HTS, cellular assays, and analytical chemistry as well as for interactions with outside companies.”
When the company began focusing on providing services, there were a lot more compounds coming in. Since the original system was flexible, said Dr. Dickson, “there were only a few aspects that we needed to adapt to make it a smooth operation.”
Liquid-handling methods were modified for more flexibility and most of the processes automated to remove human error. In order to minimize the number of freeze/thaws once a compound goes into solution, a single-use plate system is used so that the compound and data maintain integrity. Most of the software was developed in-house; proprietary modules for tracking amounts, container types, and plates make sure all manipulations are recorded, according to Dr. Dickson.
“We were forced to have flexibility up-front and to make sure we were able to handle a variety of things,” added Dr. Dickson. “We can handle all forms of compounds from the customer including dry solids, dry films, 96-well plates, solutions. The bottom line is that data quality is not influenced by compound management.”