n further PAA automation news, the firm recently consulted with the low-cost automation specialist igus. The result is the S-Lab automated plate handler, a small pick & place machine that is compatible with up to 300 different lab instruments. “Redefining how automation

works, the S-Lab eliminates the need for costly bespoke hardware and software, providing a reliable

‘plug and play’ solution for single instrument loading,” says Malcolm Crook. Designed for easy installation and out-of-the-box use, this small, automated plate handler can process up to 100 standard or 30 deep-well petri dishes. It also handles up 80 lidded petri dishes, providing sterility for cell-based assays.

One of the main requirements for this piece of equipment was its

small size to enable it to fit on a standard lab workbench. As such, it was also envisaged that it had to operate quietly as technicians would be working close by. The compact base unit is a robolink joint, which acts as a turntable rotating at between 6-7rpm, and on top sits a drylin belt drive, which moves up and down at a speed of 200mm/s – both of which operate smoothly and quietly. l


Te sheer number of antibody subjects involved makes the process an ideal candidate for automation: the workcell operates by combining high-throughput cell culture screening and identification with the isolation of single antigen specific B cells using a proprietary technique known as the 'fluorescent foci' method. Te robot facilitates extremely efficient

interrogation of the natural antibody repertoire. In a typical early stage screening campaign, a billion antibody producing B cells can be screened to find the ones with some of the desirable properties, a number that would be all but unimaginable if manual techniques were used. “Te workcell’s efficient sampling allows the fast discovery of those few antibodies which have required characteristics,” explains Dr Malcolm Crook, a technical director at PAA. With the workcell, the robot is used to seed the cells into barcoded 96-well tissue culture plates at a density between 500 and 5000 cells per well. A typical experiment may use up to 500 plates. Te robot then moves the filled plates to an incubator station where the cells divide and produce antibody.

TRANSFER TO WORKCELL After a week’s incubation the plates are moved by the robot onto a conveyor so that they can be transferred onto a screening workcell. In the screening


workcell the cell culture supernatant is sampled and transferred to an assay plate by the robot. A carefully designed homogeneous, plate-based, fluorescent screening assay is used to identify wells containing an antibody specific to the target protein. Te plates are then transferred into the picking workcell where the positive- well cell culture supernatants are cherry- picked by the robot and consolidated onto a barcoded master plate. Freezing media is added to the picked wells and the plate containing the cells is frozen down to -80°C. Further highly detailed analyses follow, at which stage it is possible to collect the genes of the best individual antibodies and go on to discover and develop therapies for specific diseases.


A key benefit of the antibody discovery workcell for companies such as UCB is that it reduces the time required to identify potential candidate antibodies compared to manual methods. Delivering useful starting points from which to allow subsequent discovery of therapies and treatments in the downstream antibody discovery process far more quickly than was previously possible. It also allows multiple projects to be carried out in parallel, thus addressing a broad spectrum of disease mediators. Te workcell is based on a Mitsubishi Electric robot with six axes of movement.

In this application it has also been mounted on a ballscrew-driven travel base so that it can move between two locations within the workcell to perform different tasks. Tis linear movement is fully integrated with the robot’s own motion axes, using a Mitsubishi Electric SSCNet high speed motion control network. PAA fitted the robot with a standalone controller with SSCNet onboard, although Mitsubishi Electric also offers robots that can be controlled via an integrated PLC rack-mounted robot controller. Te robot is a Mitsubishi Electric

model RV7-FLM-D1-S15, a unit that is popular for a range of applications from life sciences and precision assembly to manufacturing and materials handling. It weighs in at less than 67kg, but can lift 7kg, has a reach of over 900mm and a positioning accuracy of 0.02mm. Its waist axis can rotate through ±240°, which gives it an all-around working envelope. Significantly, this robot model is rated to IP67, so can be used in demanding environments. It also offers very fast cycle times and has many safety features such as settable limits for speed, position and torque.

A VIABLE PROCESS Crook sums up: “Only by starting with a very large number of cells is it possible to identify those few antibodies in early stage screening from which new treatments can be subsequently developed and only robotic automation makes this a viable process.”

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