Supporting Reproducibility and Accelerating Workflows With Automated Systems
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Laboratory automation can provide increased reproducibility of results while also supporting walkaway convenience, easing the burden of increased testing and compliance with regulatory requirements by effectively and efficiently supporting laboratory staff.
At SLAS 2023, Technology Networks spoke with Carola Schmidt and John Fink from the PerkinElmer Life Sciences and Diagnostics organization to discuss the launch of two new automated platforms – the EnVision® Nexus™ multimode plate reader system and the Zephyr® G3 NGS iQ™ workstation. These innovative systems are designed to improve workflows such as high-throughput drug discovery screening and next-generation sequencing library prep, through advances in automation technologies.
Innovation in the automation space
The EnVision Nexus platform builds upon PerkinElmer’s previous successes over two decades to create a multimode plate reader that can analyze a wide range of assays at high sensitivity on a single instrument, across detection technologies such as fluorescence intensity and polarization, luminescence, time-resolved fluorescence and addressing the PerkinElmer propriety advanced proximity-based assay technologies like Alpha and HTRF. The system is designed to accelerate high-throughput screening at high performance, analyzing millions of samples with the capacity for 24/7 automation.
Similarly, the Zephyr workstation is an automated benchtop system for next-generation sequencing (NGS) library preparation, equipped with a high-performing liquid handler and integrated thermocycler to improve reproducibility even for complex NGS methods. “It enables complete walkaway for NGS library prep,” says Fink. “It is our most compact system that can process up to 96 library prep samples, simultaneously – this is a big request for size-conscious labs in Europe, to reduce bench space required.”
Fink also commented on the walkaway convenience of automated platforms such as Zephyr: “For many assays, the user can really just load the kits, walk away, come back four or five hours later and have libraries ready to sequence.”
Challenges facing automated technologies
Nevertheless, key challenges remain in the automation space – for example, ensuring platforms have enough flexibility to perform different assays and configurations. “Every customer has a slightly different application,” says Fink. “I mentioned NGS library prep – we have around 150 protocols developed from maybe 50 different kit companies. Every customer wants their own assays or application run their own way […] that’s why you have to design in flexibility.”
Schmidt also elaborated on how hesitancy and distrust in automation is a major barrier to its implementation. “A lot of people are scared of [it], they don’t trust automation and they are more trusting in manual pipetting,” she says. “It's about moving out of the comfort zone.”
In a field that generates huge amounts of plastic waste and largely requires single-use plastics, increasing sustainability is key to minimize the effect on our planet. But how can automation be combined with sustainability? “That’s something we’re working on,” says Fink. “NGS applications go through a lot of tips because you can't risk any cross-contamination. After you use a tip, this is a biohazard – but the tip box is not. So, we're moving to have the proper recycling codes on the recyclable plastics so that customers can dispose of them in the correct recycling streams.”
There are also advancements that can be made in terms of making equipment more energy efficient. “The liquid handler itself doesn't [use] a lot of electricity, but the heating elements or cooling elements do. We're working with vendors to improve the energy efficiencies of these integrated devices” Fink adds. “So, the less heat load in the system, the easier it is to design and the lower the electricity usage.”
Carola Schmidt, general manager of automated robotic solutions, and John Fink, general manager of automated liquid handling, both with PerkinElmer’s Life Sciences and Diagnostics business, spoke with Molly Campbell, Senior Science Writer for Technology Networks at SLAS 2023.