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March 01, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 5)

Agilent Expands Its Capabilities in Robotics

Acquisition of Velocity11 Broadens Firm's Liquid-Handling Abilities

  • Product Portfolio Expands

    Last August, the Velocity11 group  moved from Menlo Park, CA, to a larger customized space at the Santa Clara campus of Agilent. Now known as Agilent Automation Solutions, it continues to design and sell instruments; at the end of January, Velocity11 products were rebranded as Agilent. In the future, product names will migrate toward the Agilent brand or be referred to as the Velocity11 product group. Agilent has made no significant changes in the division’s product portfolio. “They were leading edge, and we have no reason to change that,” comments Roelofs.

    Products in the R&D pipeline are now being accelerated with an infusion of Agilent engineering and funds. Agilent is also deploying the talents of Velocity11 researchers into new areas such as food testing to detect chemical contaminants like melamine and pesticides as well as foodborne pathogens. The recently acquired Stratagene, and the molecular biology skills of that company combined with the expertise of Velocity11 should lead to innovative detection methods, explains Roelofs.

    Velocity11 has also set up a high-throughput automated stem cell and screening platform at I-STEM in Evry, France. I-STEM uses stem cells for drug discovery. According to Roelofs, this is the first time that stem cell cultures and screening have been automated in 96-well microplates.

    Traditionally, such an endeavor would require a custom-built robotic system costing several million dollars. Velocity11, however, assembled modular components that lowered the price to $1 million. More importantly, “the modular aspect can be easily replicated, and we have other customers looking at the system,” explains Roelofs.

    Velocity11 built its reputation on creating instruments that can stand alone or be assembled into modular systems. “The combination of product innovation and system integration is the unique genius of Velocity11 that Agilent noticed,” says Rob Nail,  GM of Agilent Automation Solutions.

    Among Agilent Automation Solution’s current products are the Bravo™ Liquid Handling Platform. The Bravo fits inside a standard laminar flow hood, allowing automated liquid handling of cell-based assays or hazardous reagents. The accurate pipette heads of the VPrep™ pipettor are used to dispense 100 nanoliters to 200 microliters into 96-, 384-, or 1,536-well plates. The Bravo integrates with other devices, saves on costly reagents, and can be used for assay plate preparation, microplate replication, library reformatting, DNA extraction, and cell-assay screening, notes Roelofs.

    Another popular product, the VSpin™ Microplate Centrifuge, is a small robotic-accessible automated centrifuge. It’s ideal for high- or medium-throughput applications and for filtration protocols, air-bubble removal in microplates, and spinning down cells or cellular debris in microplate wells, Roelofs says. A variety of robotic arms can access the buckets for high-throughput screening, and the units can be stacked to save space.

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