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When Shawn Fahl, PhD, joined Discovery Life Sciences (Discovery) in 2017, the process of flow cytometry testing was labor intensive, involving a technician spending the day manually flipping tubes on and off a machine.

Shawn Fahl

“Back then, we had a four-color flow cytometer that was not being utilized,” said Discovery’s Vice President of Lab Operations, Cell Services, and R&D for Biospecimens. “We started with solid tumors, and we needed eight panels. It was so time consuming that somebody had to sit there all day.”

Technology modernization and process optimization has helped Discovery become a leader in the field offering the world’s largest commercial biospecimen inventory and procurement network, and preeminent multiomic services.

Despite Shawn’s initial considerations of other solutions, it became evident that the small footprint and intuitive and interactive user interface of the MACSQuant® Analyzer Flow Cytometer made it the clear choice.

“We put a lot of time and effort into these specimens, so we don’t want them to just sit in a freezer. We want them out in the world,” Shawn said. “The reason we went with the MACSQuant was scalability. … Everything was about scalability for us.”

Shawn noted that other factors in the decision included the “beautifully automated nine-color panel, along with CD16 on its own channel” an add-on made possible through the custom Express Mode, built by Miltenyi Biotec specifically for Discovery’s needs, and the ease of automatic sample processing in different sample formats.

These enhanced capabilities now enable Shawn’s lab to run the same screening on its apheresis material, allowing the operator to use the identical panel to screen the donors and test the purity on the back end. This ensures identical results and facilitates precision in cell isolation and efficiency for donor assignments.

A seamless workflow

Discovery established a facility in Bulgaria, the implementation of automated analysis through the custom Express Modes, combined with the utilization of state-of-the-art instruments, enabled the company to seamlessly transfer tissues from one facility to another. As Shawn explained, this transformation has translated into significant time savings.

Shawn’s lab can now process about 60–80 diseased tissue and bone marrow samples per week. Since he joined Discovery in 2017, the flow profile has reached approximately 7,000 solid tumors, with well over 10,000 bone marrow samples.

“The MACSQuant® Analyzer has been instrumental in that,” he said. “That’s why we have three here and one in Bulgaria. We have the confidence that the data generated in Bulgaria will be consistent with what we obtain here in Huntsville.”

Before the introduction of MACSQuant® Analyzers into its arsenal, Discovery had a biobank that brimmed with clinical data but lacked further characterization useful to scientists who needed to choose biospecimens. Now, Discovery has achieved a remarkable
capability to “hyper-annotate™” samples, ensuring that viable cell products undergo a comprehensive cytometry analysis while diseased specimens are shuttled to a next-generation sequencing platform for the identification of prevalent mutations.

In Discovery’s meticulous screening process, each sample is screened for the most common cell populations observed in tumors. This includes the assessment of total tumor cells and immune cell subsets such as CD4, CD8, T cells, B cells, and monocytes.

Collect, flow, and repeat

“Being at Discovery has been reaffirming,” Shawn says. We have a motto:  ‘patients are waiting’. We want to get these specimens into researchers’ hands as quickly as we can so they can conduct the critical work needed to get new and improved treatments to patients faster.”

Shawn remains steadfast in his vision for a future where scientific guesswork takes a back seat. In pursuit of these ambitious goals, he remains a loving father of two, skillfully balancing his commitments to spend quality time with his family; a master the art of crafting intricate LEGO creations; and a participant in profound discussions about baseball analytics with his close friends. Shawn’s passion for advancing science at the cellular level persists, driven by the unwavering belief that the future of medicine lies in the personalization of life-saving drugs for every patient.


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