March 1, 2006 (Vol. 26, No. 5)
Focus is on New Capabilities and Improved Scalability and Flexibility
More than 4,000 people gathered for LabAutomation 2006 as the Association for Laboratory Automation brought its 10th annual conference back to Palm Springs. Held at the end of January, the conference was, as usual, replete with new product introductions.
PerkinElmer (www.perkinelmer.com) announced new capabilities for its Janus Automated Workstation platform. The flagship platform includes new features and functionalities to give laboratories real-time and future adaptability in throughput, capacity, and dynamic volume range to meet their liquid-handling automation needs, according to Nance Hall, PerkinElmers business unit leader for automation and liquid handling.
With the modular design of the Janus platform, researchers can change a robotic arm to meet new throughput requirements, change the dynamic volume range, or otherwise provide real-time adaptability on the fly. Laboratories can purchase the system and scale up as their needs change, explained Hall.
The Janus MDT Automated Workstation is a 96- or 384-channel workstation offering Modular Dispense Technology (MDT) with interchangeable dispense heads, including the NanoHead, which enables assay miniaturization with 384-tip processing down to 50 nL. MDT also reportedly enables automatic programming of the selection of numerous dispense heads and formats to provide hands-off, on the fly adaptability in dynamic volume range and microplate densities up to 1,536 wells.
The Gripper Integration Platform provides comprehensive labware movement within the Janus deck, as well as to external devices. The Mini-Janus Automated Workstation offers a single-arm option with a smaller nine-position deck that includes the MDT interchangeable pipetting head system for automated pipetting into 96-, 384-, and 1,536-well microplates.
Beckman Coulter (www.beckmancoulter.com) introduced the Biomek 3000-ArrayPLEX Workstation, an RNA-preparation solution for gene expression arrays. This workstation is a small-footprint version of the higher-throughput Biomek FX ArrayPLEX application, developed with Affymetrix (www.affymetrix.com) for GeneChip customers. Capable of processing 196 samples in a single run with minimal user intervention, the workstation can be used with a variety of chemistries and chips and has the flexibility to perform other nucleic acid preparation applications, according to the company.
The process of target prep for gene expression analysis is time-consuming and labor-intensive, explained David Daniels, applications marketing manager for Beckman Coulter. Through our work with Affymetrix and our acquisition of Agencourt, we have been able to optimize our automation technology for this advanced solution.
Astech Projects (www.astechprojects. com) launched the Tablet-Pro, an automated tablet processing system for drug content analysis. Tablet-Pro is designed to fully automate content uniformity testing and stability analysis, leading to higher throughput rates, according to Anthony Moran, Astechs business development manager.
Current industry expectations are 1 tablet every 30 minutes, creating backlogs in batch testing. This is often accompanied by vessel size restrictions. Tablet-Pro offers a market-leading throughput restricted only by the number of modules. Improved scalability allows users to specify the number of homogenizers, vessel size, and volumes for dissolution.
Tablet-Pros advanced software supports parallel processing functions for high throughput. The system is fully compliant with 21 CFR Part 11 and Good Automated Manufacturing Practice (GAMP), according to Moran. It can be integrated with liquid chromatography systems and chromatographic data systems for automated analysis of samples.
Tecan (www.tecan.com) and its subsidiary, REMP (www.remp.com), combined Tecans sample preparation and microplate reader (screening and assay) capabilities with REMPs compound and sample storage, managerial, and logistic solutions.
Tecans Cellerity system for automated culturing of adherent cells enables increasing the quality of research by running additional cell-based assays each week, according to Carl Severinghaus, head of Tecan US. A multichannel arm for the Freedom EVO automated liquid-handling workstation provides cost-effective automation of high-throughout applications such as genomic drug screening, according to Severinghaus.
Another introduction was pressure-monitored pipetting, in which Tecan is working with kit companies and allowing methods to have predefined curves, in order to determine problems in the process and enable immediate action.
Tecan also introduced the Infinite 200 series of upgradeable multi-function microplate readers, which offers a choice of monochromator or filter-based excitation/emission and combines reagent dispensing with several detection modes. The modular design allows for configuration for performing absorbance, fluorescence top and bottom, fluorescence polarization, and photon-counting luminescence readings in 6 to 384-well microplate formats, as well as PCR plates and cuvettes.
REMP started with automation of traditional tube racks, initially developed for manual processing, explained Donat Elsener, REMPs president of sales and marketing. Disadvantages encountered were high error rate of robotic handling, no seal available, only large volume available, and multiple access with freeze/thaw cycles.
From sample preparation to LIMS, weve linked everything together to serve all levels of laboratory automation, said Hansjoerg Haas, director of ADME/Tox at Thermo Electron (www.thermo.com).
Thermos HCS WorkCell, a high-content screening system combines a small footprint with software in a turnkey configuration to deliver a compact automated solution.
Instrumentation and software enable sample preparation and scheduled analysis with maximum flexibility, the company explains. The speed and dexterity of the HCS WorkCell, combined with the vertical integration, yield maximum throughput. Incorporating web services capabilities, the HCS WorkCell also allows for easy configuration for sample tracking and data export to LIMS.
The HCS WorkCell can be utilized with Thermos Orchestrator software, which connects the flow of information from automation scheduling software to a LIMS database. This enables researchers to gather, analyze, and use essential data more effectively.
Thermo also announced an addition to the Multidrop bulk reagent dispenser range, the Multidrop Combi, which the company says improves versatility for reagent dispensing. Working with all standard plate formats (96 to 1,536) and with automatic plate height adjustment, Multidrop Combis reportedly provides reproducible results over a volume range of 0.5 to 2,500 l with high throughput and 24/7 operation.
Thermos Polara RS software package for the RapidStak microplate stacker schedules and automates two instruments simultaneously, according to the company.
NovaScreen Biosciences, a Caliper Life Sciences company (www.caliperls.com), launched its new KinaseAdvisor screening panel of 48 protein kinase assays. Profiling a drug candidates activity against a wide variety of kinases is crucial to understanding potential safety and efficacy issues, explained Peter Carlson, Ph.D., vp of NovaScreen.
NovaScreen performs the KinaseAdvisor assays on the Caliper LabChip 3000 platform, which uses electrophoresis instead of antibodies as the basis of the assay. Electrophoretic separation of assay components is more sensitive and yields more highly reproducible data, according to Caliper.
Pharma productivity has been decreasing for more than 20 years, said Kirby Pilcher, president of Artel (www.artel-usa.com). When liquid delivery devices fail, instruments run out of spec. Our pipette-calibration system provides immediate feedback at the benchtop.
Artels MVS Advanced verifies multichannel instrumentation using non-aqueous test solutions, such as DMSO. The MVS Advanced enhances data integrity and enables laboratories to optimize automated liquid-handling equipment with up to 384 channels.
As John Bradshaw, Ph.D., senior development scientist at Artel, explained, ratiometric photometry, which is immune to vibration and humidity, makes the difference. Artel partnered with Caliper Life Sciences to strengthen quality assurance for automated liquid delivery systems. Caliper will conduct in-house testing on its automated liquid handlers, providing third-party verification of equipment performance.
Cold Plasma Technology
CerionX (www.cerionx.com) introduced Tip Charger, an atmospheric cold plasma technology that generates an electronic plasma to clean pipetting tips. The objective, according to Jeb Connor, chairman and CEO, is to drive cost and waste out of the system. The technology eliminates the cost of replacing tips, multiple washing steps, and contamination, Connor said.
The Tip Charger cleaning station has a standard SBS footprint, added Paul Hensley, founder, president, and CTO of CerionX. Sterilizing probes to prevent E. coli formations in fermenters takes 10 seconds with the Tip Charger. You can get the same result with yeast. The technology can ionize away anything thats alive.
Velocity 11 (www.velocity11.com) introduced the Bravo liquid-handling platform and the BioCel 1200 automated sample processing system. Bravo dispenses from 100 nanoliters to 200 microliters in 96-, 384-, and 1,536-well formats or to a single column or row of any of these plate types. It has a space-saving nine-plate position footprint that can fit inside a standard laminar flow hood and an open design that enables easy integration with third-party robots or unencumbered standalone use, according to Brad Nelson, product manager.
BioCel 1200 is a compact system that provides station-to-station transfer in three seconds, Nelson said. Its flexible robotic arm reaches outside of the BioCel to access large instruments that can then roll away. The configuration enables two robots to access each other by means of software.
The Automation Partnership (www. automationpartnership.com) introduced CompacT SelecT, an automated cell culture and assay-ready plating system. CompacT SelecT grows and maintains cells from multiple cell lines in T-flasks and delivers them into microtiter plates. It reportedly provides unattended operation, proven aseptic processing environment, bar code tracking, flexible protocols and scheduling, and automation of manual cell culture processes.
Dimatix (www.dimatix.com) exhibited its cartridge-based Dimatix Materials Printer (DMP). The DMP-2800 can deposit 10 picoliter-sized droplets of fluid to print feature sizes as small as 40 microns on any type of surface, including plastic, glass, silicon, membranes, gels, and paper, says Dimatix. Since this deposition technique requires less fluid, the number of potential reactions with a given amount of fluid is increased.
In comparison to traditional dispensing methods where each microliter-sized droplet typically yields about 100 tests, the DMP-2800s picoliter-sized droplets allow experiments in the millions, according to Jan Sumerel, Ph.D., manager of biomedical sciences.
Many bioscience applications, such as DNA synthesis, can benefit from new microfluidic technologies that decrease the size of fluid delivery mechanisms, maximizing costs and resources, said Dr. Sumerel.