Getting a handle on liquids: automation solutions for drug discovery
The accurate and precise measurement of liquids and the transport of exact volumes between vessels, or from one instrument to another, are processes that constitute the very essence of research.
However, while this simple requirement for the meticulous handling of liquids has been ever-present in laboratories the world over, there has been dramatic evolution in the techniques and equipment used to perform such tasks, from the humble Pasteur pipette to today’s automated liquid handling instruments. This article focuses on the latest developments in automated liquid handling for drug discovery, and the current trends that are shaping the industry, such as lowvolume handling and miniaturisation, before looking ahead to the next steps that will lead to tomorrow’s breakthroughs.
The need for high accuracy and high throughput in the search for new drug candidates has driven the development from manual methods towards automated liquid handling. Automation provides the throughput and consistency required to screen huge numbers of samples as rapidly as possible, leaving human hands free for less repetitive and more creative tasks, such as designing experiments and data analysis.
“Automated liquid handling addresses a multitude of high-throughput screening (HTS) challenges,” said Kevin Truempi, Product Manager of Automation Solutions at Agilent. “There is an ever-growing demand to screen and collect more data over multiple timepoints, vastly increasing the sample count for processing and analysis. Automated liquid handling systems are crucial for generating reproducible data at high throughput for improved downstream analysis.”
When implemented correctly, automation is unsurpassable in terms of its ability to increase throughput capacity compared to what is possible by hand. By shortening screening time and improving the reliability and reproducibility of data, decisions can be made more quickly and with greater confidence, which can ultimately lead to significant cost savings. As Carola Schmidt, Global Director of Automated Solutions, Applied Genomics at PerkinElmer, explained: “Standardisation of drug discovery workflows by automating the liquid handling processes offers the highest return on investment in terms of the reduction of human error and accuracy improvement.”
The challenge for automated liquid handling in drug discovery is adapting to complex, physiologically- relevant assays. It is the systems that address this specific need that have the potential to deliver the most significant reductions in costs and timelines while enabling drug discovery companies to explore a much broader part of the available chemical space. “Libraries of millions of compounds in buffer solutions are required for screening. Utilising automation to prepare these samples quickly and accurately allows scientists to optimise their results, as well as their time,” said Harry Forsyth, Regional Sales Manager at Analytik Jena. This speeds up hit generation and hit-to-lead processes, which in turn increases the probability of generating promising clinical candidates.....
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