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Feature Articles : Mar 1, 2011 (Vol. 31, No. 5)

LabAutomation 2011 New Product Showcase

  • Tamlyn Oliver

The final “LabAuto” conference wrapped up last month with over 4,000 in attendance. The meeting will be replaced by “SLAS”, a combination of LabAuto and “SBS” to be held in San Diego next year.

Douglas Scientific was among the innovators at the meeting with its Array Tape microplate replacement technology. Array Tape, which has its origins in the electronics industry, is an inline module platform that offers ultrahigh-throughput screening in a variety of settings including agbio and human and veterinary applications. The continuous feed of the platform facilitates rapid dispensing and sealing of samples. According to Dan Malstrom, the newly elected company president, Array Tape offers “10 times the throughput of microplates at a 90 percent cost reduction.”

LabCyte introduced the Access laboratory workstation. Access was developed to further maximize the benefits of the company’s Echo acoustic liquid-handling system by improving overall assay throughput and reproducibility through the use of automation. This new product makes use of the automation control software developed for the firm’s POD technology, which was introduced last year. According to Mark Fisher-Colbrie, president and CEO, the addition of Access to its product line creates a complete LabCyte liquid-handling solution.

Agilent Technologies also echoed the complete solutions refrain at the meeting where it introduced several products, including BenchBot Robot and the AssayMAP Bravo platform. Nitin Sood, general manager of Agilent’s automation solution division, explained that AssayMAP Bravo “offers a complete solution for a variety of sample-prep applications and saves valuable time developing and validating assays.”

The BenchBot Robot, which complements the firm’s Direct Drive Robot and BenchCel Microplate Handler, is a mid-sized microplate handler designed to meet the automation workflow needs of diverse laboratories, added Sood. “The BenchBot Robot incorporates the robust functionality of our larger automated microplate handlers into a compact design for use in small lab spaces, enabling automation of a variety of changing, science-driven workflows,” he continued.

BioTek touted its Synergy H1 Hybrid multimode Microplate Reader, which was launched late last year but on display at LabAuto. Synergy H1 is a flexible monochromator-based multimode microplate reader that can be turned into a high-performance hybrid system with the addition of a filter-based optical module, explained company officials. The monochromator optics uses a third-generation quadruple grating design that reportedly allows working at any excitation or emission wavelength with a 1 nm step. The system supports top and bottom fluorescence intensity, UV-visible absorbance, and high-performance luminescence detection.

BioNex Solutions created somewhat of a “buzz” at the conference by showcasing its Hive automation platform. The Hive is reportedly unlike most automation platforms because it can be used in continuous-operation mode. Adding simultaneous-access plate storage allows plates and consumables to be loaded and unloaded during runs, eliminating traditional deck resetting time. David Donofrio, director of business development described the platform’s concurrent plate processing while pipetting as “radically different.”

At LabAuto, Hudson Robotics demonstrated its RapidPick Lite, a scaled-down version of its RapidPick Workcell for users who need high-speed colony-picking but can’t afford, or don’t wish, to couple the automated plate-handling and picking/re-arraying functions with the RapidPick’s pre-pick media filling and post-pick sealing of the growth/daughter plate. The benchtop-friendly RapidPick Lite offers the capacity, throughput, and picking/re-arraying features of the RapidPick workcell, but without media dispensing or plate sealing, according to a company spokesperson.

The new Thermo Scientific Versette automated liquid handler was also on display at the Thermo Fisher Scientific booth at LabAuto. Compatible with 19 interchangeable, RFID-tagged pipetting heads, the Versette provides pipetting capability for applications that require single- to 384-channel automated pipetting. It is compatible with both disposable and fixed-tip pipetting heads, with a total volume ranging from 0.1 to 1,250 µL.

TTP LabTech showcased Lab2Lab at the meeting. A configurable and flexible, site-wide microtube transportation system, it associates a list of tasks/methods to be performed on a sample and then pneumatically transports the sample microtube between the relevant laboratory, analytical device, rack assembly, or storage system to ensure completion of the task. Lab2Lab was designed to automatically route each sample microtube to the analytical instrument best able to deal with it. If the required instrument is unavailable, the microtube is automatically held in a buffer until it becomes free.

Hamilton Robotics further enhanced its product line with the introduction of the TADM 96 Multi-Channel Pipetting Head. The new head is compatible with the company’s Microlab® STAR line of automated liquid-handling platforms and incorporates Total Aspiration and Dispense Monitoring (TADM) technology. Air pressure sensors are built into each channel, which monitor pipetting based on Hamilton’s air-displacement technology.

“With our new TADM 96 head we can better address the growing need in high-throughput drug discovery and pharmaceutical for more stringent quality control measures implemented further upstream in the drug discovery process,” explained Rick Luedke, marketing manager.

Many companies featured product upgrades at the meeting. Among such firms was Genetix, which launched ClonePix 2.

“Working closely with our existing customers has enabled us to specify software and hardware enhancements to raise overall performance. Imaging-analysis software has been enhanced to improve consistency when ranking clones,” explained Mark Truesdale, marketing manager. “A redesign of robotics has reduced the number of plate-handling steps, thereby minimizing the risk of colony disturbance or contamination and giving greater picking accuracy. We believe that ClonePix 2 users will experience a smoother, more efficient workflow.”

There were also a number of products developed collaboratively on display at LabAuto, including the PR100i Print-and-Apply System from Computype and Nautilus Systems. PR100i is a desktop label applicator that offers simultaneous labeling, precision placement, high-quality thermal transfer printing, and versatility in all types and sizes of labels and containers, said Eric Isberg, marketing manager/laboratory. It can print and apply up to 12 labels and features a thermal transfer printing system with 600 dpi resolution and a retracting peel-edge technology.

Another product created through a partnership and launched at LabAuto was Perkin- Elmer’s EnSpire Multimode Plate Reader with the Corning® Epic® label-free technology. This benchtop detection platform combines optical label-free technology and traditional labeled assays to identify and characterize potential new therapeutic targets.

“The new EnSpire platform allows simultaneous measurement of multiple signaling pathways over time, to provide researchers with a more complete and insightful view of both cellular and biochemical interactions. Label-free approaches are sensitive enough to work with sub-confluent cells and nonrecombinant cell types. This approach can yield more biologically relevant data, allowing for more predictive and faster decisions to be made, as well as improving the quality of research,” explained Achim von Leoprechting, Ph.D., vp, imaging and detection technologies, biodiscovery.

Spectrophotometers

Both Caliper Life Sciences and BMG Labtech entered the spectrophotometer market with new products introduced at LabAuto. Caliper will distribute Trinean’s DropSense platform under the name LabChip DS in North America. With the LabChip DS, an automated UV/Vis spectral analysis platform, users reportedly can analyze the concentration levels of up to 96 nucleic acid and protein samples (0.5 to 3.0 µL droplets) within a few minutes.

BMG’s SPECTROstarNano allows assays to be performed quickly and easily in both microplates or via the built-in cuvette port, according to E. J. Dell, Ph.D., business development and applications scientist. BMG’s new absorbance microplate reader captures a full UV-visible spectrum (220 to 1,000 nm) in less than 1 sec/well and measures sample volumes down to 2 µL, he added.