Laboratory Automation

delivers precise liquid handling for 96- to 1536-well plates. The instrument is equipped with positive displacement syringes for very precise pipetting. Furthermore, the software controlling the robot includes a state-of-the-art scheduler that enables timed incubations to be carried out, which are a requirement for many screening assays today.” Tecan has tackled the handling of very low vol-

umes by harnessing HP’s proven thermal inkjet technology to dispense precise volumes of liquids. “Tecan’s D300e Digital Dispenser can dispense volumes as low as 11pL and up to 10µL directly from the stock solution into the assay plate. The dead volume can be as low as 2µL, which is espe- cially important when compounds are only avail- able in small quantities. The main application of the D300e is for assay development and target val- idation, where high flexibility and easy operation with little programming are paramount,” explained Dr Rémi Magnan. Analytik Jena manufactures liquid handling sys-

tems with a proven tip sealing technology that enables users to perform high precision HTS with volumes in the sub-microliter range. “Our tip seal- ing technology works by applying a uniform pres- sure that partially embeds the top of each tip into a silicone mat, making an airtight seal. This also ensures uniform tip length for enhanced pipetting performance and liquid transfers into dry or high- density microplates,” said Harry Forsyth at Analytik Jena. In short, many of the challenges of low-volume

automated liquid handling come down to reliabili- ty – for HTS results to be valid, the accuracy and repeatability of dispensing are essential. For exam- ple, an error of +/-200nL can be fairly insignificant (1%) in a 20µL dispense. However, for a 1µL dis- pense, a volumetric error of the same magnitude translates into a huge 20% error. “Add to this the need to handle more challenging reagents as assays get ever more complex, and it becomes difficult for liquid handlers to perform at the levels required by screeners to give robust data,” said Joby Jenkins at SPT Labtech. SPT Labtech addresses this issue of low volume

dispense reliability with direct piston-driven positive displacement technology. This approach eliminates the reliance on valves, pumps, pressure, air and sys- tem liquid displacement to provide highly reliable and accurate dispensing, irrespective of liquid vis- cosity, surface tension or environmental conditions.

Advancing tomorrow’s HTS workflows While miniaturisation and low-volume handling are the dominant trends today, given the rapid


advance of technology, manufacturers must ensure their instruments have the flexibility to adapt to ever-changing requirements. For example, PerkinElmer has identified the need for increased standardisation, a development that will become ever more important as the prevalence of collabo- rative multicentre studies continues to grow. Although these diffuse networks play a vital role in advancing drug discovery research, they can pre- sent difficulties due to laboratory-specific differ- ences in workflows. “The incorporation of automated liquid han-

dlers into HTS workflows dramatically improves lab standardisation with automated sample track- ing and Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) integration. PerkinElmer’s liquid handling workstations facilitate sample tracking by incorporating automated barcode scanning into every step of sample processing. Samples are placed into a PerkinElmer automation solution where they are scanned by the barcode reader, which communicates with the LIMS and then pro- cessed according to predefined work orders, allow- ing labs to import data into management systems easily,” commented PerkinElmer’s Carola Schmidt. In a similar vein, Agilent offers automated plate

barcode labelling and sealing with its BenchCel Workstations. “All our automation products can be interfaced with LIMS and can output pre-con- figured email user notifications, tracking sample and progress to minimise manual entries and idle time,” noted Kevin Truempi at Agilent. There is a growing tendency for HTS workflows

to include more and more integration of third- party devices. For such systems to operate effec- tively, good communication between these devices and the liquid handler is vital. Tecan’s latest gener- ation liquid handler, Fluent®, has been designed to provide a high degree of flexibility to accommo- date the integration of a broad range of third-party devices. Tecan’s specialty integration solution, Labwerx™, allows users to integrate a number of modules and devices with the automated liquid handler, allowing complex customised systems to be built to accommodate the needs of modern HTS workflows. The ever-increasing complexity of screening

assays in the drug discovery field has started to shift the focus away from speed-based perfor- mance towards data integrity and system-based flexibility. “The ordering and timing of reagent additions and general volumetric performance are critical for more involved assays, and therefore the deployment of more sophisticated liquid handling technologies will become prevalent. To address

Drug Discovery World Winter 2019/20

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