SLAS 2015: Translating Discoveries

Held for the first time in Washington, DC, the SLAS (Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening) 2015 conference and exhibit hosted 4,964 attendees and 296 exhibitors at the Walter E. Washington Conference Center, February 7–11. Attendance declined 14.7% from 2014, when the show was held in San Diego, California (see IBO 1/31/14), but was up approximately 25% from the show’s last East Coast appearance in 2013 (see IBO 1/31/13). In 2016, the conference will return to San Diego from January 23 to January 27, alternating in subsequent years between Washington, DC, and San Diego through 2019.

Like last year, phenotypic screening was a major topic of the conference. In a well-attended Tuesday morning presentation entitled “The Phenotypic Screening ‘Rule of Three’: Developing More Predictive Assays,” Fabien Vincent, PhD, of Pfizer discussed the development of phenotypic assays and their use at Pfizer to rank and prioritize drug screens, emphasizing the importance of disease proximity. For the first rule, physiological relevance of assay systems, he noted the importance of using native systems and the translation of the molecular mechanism of action. For the second rule, the employment of the stimulus in an assay, he explained that the intrinsic stimulation is already provided if the assay uses patient-derived cells. For assay end point, the third rule, he focused on the relationship of the assay end point to a clinical end point, emphasizing the use of biomarkers as clinical end points for the physical manifestation of a disease, as opposed to its biological manifestation. Summing up his talk, Dr. Vincent explained that the ideal phenotypic screen would be to miniaturize the disease in a well plate and have the clinical end point as the assay readout.

In addition to the various research and technical presentations on topics for which the conference is well known—high-throughput screening, bioanalytical techniques, micro- and nanotechnologies and informatics—SLAS this year also included more funding- and business-oriented sessions. In a special session on Monday entitled “The Commercialization of Technologies: From Ideas to Reality,” several presentations examined the challenges of commercializing new technologies, both in instrumentation and pharmaceuticals.

In her talk entitled “Minding the Gaps in Biomedical Technology Translation,” Megan Frisk, associate editor of Science Translational Medicine, discussed five gaps in the translation of science to clinical outcomes: knowledge, innovation, regulation, education and policy. She suggested the use of a network model rather than a linear model for translating research to the clinic and gave examples of such networks that are addressing each gap. In the area of knowledge sharing, she highlighted Sage Bionetworks’ DREAM Challenge, an open collaboration that brought mathematicians’ expertise to answering the question of how to predict breast-cancer progressions. For innovation, she discussed the idea of derisking translational research through team sciences and network-enabled medicine. As an example, she cited, which is working on a precompetitive redesign of clinical trials. In academia, she encouraged proof-of-concept funding and industry mentors at universities. For regulation, she highlighted the public-private Medical Device Innovation Consortium, which engages in precompetitive discussion of medical-device development. In the area of education, she discussed the need for new ideas such as engineering-based medical colleges. As for policy changes, she noted advances in the 2016 federal budget proposal that integrate new approaches to translation, such as the Precision Medicine Initiative (see IBO 1/31/15).

Hamilton featured multiple new robotics and storage products at SLAS 2015. New products from Hamilton Robotics included the CAP (clean air protection) system, a HEPA-filtered, smart sensor–based clean-air hood for its Microlab NIMBUS liquid handler; the [MPE]2 module for positive pressure, evaporation and cap mat sealing; and a 20-plate deck configuration of the NIMBUS system (in addition to a 12-plate configuration). New dedicated workstations included those for single-cell sequencing, automated microbial screening, GPCR cell-based reporter assays and cytotoxicity assays. The four-channel ELISA Nimbus liquid handler, which will begin shipping at the end of March, features a 192-tube carousel and the new Hamilton Incubator Shaker. Hamilton also announced that Illumina is recommending use of its liquid handlers, specifically, four Microlab STAR instruments, with Illumina’s X Ten Systems. Illumina is working exclusively with Hamilton to verify X Ten methods’ chemistries and informatics for its liquid-handling platform, according to Hamilton.

Hamilton Storage Technologies launched the modular Hamilton Verso, a -20 °C to ambient temperature sample store for 100,000 to 5 million tubes. It can be scaled up in all three dimensions and processes up to 1,500 tubes or 170 plates in an hour. It is available as the Verso S for 468,000–3.8 million 384-format tubes and the Verso M for storing 998,000 to 5.5 million tubes. Hamilton has entered the cryopreservation market (-150 °C storage) for serum, plasma, cell lines and tissue through a partnership to sell ASKION’s C-line modular biobank systems including storage and retrieval systems, in North and South America. The systems include the WB220 processing workbench with a -100 °C picking area.

Also entering the cryopreservation market is Brooks Life Science Systems. Dusty Tenney, president of the business, told IBO that the company will introduce its first product for this market later this year. He also noted that Brooks Life Science Systems will continue its acquisition activity. Last year, Brooks acquired FluidX (see IBO 10/15/14), which was part of the SLAS 2015 exhibit, at a separate booth. Discussing FluidX, Mr. Tenney highlighted the innovation and speed of the company’s products and the acquisition’s contribution to Brooks’ cold chain management solutions. At the show, Brooks launched the 20 °C to -20 °C SampleStore II SE for 50,0000–300,000 1.4 mL tubes, which is designed as a stand-alone solution.

At SLAS 2015, Tecan launched the Spark 10M multimode plate reader. For live-cell analysis, it features an automated lid-lifting system, integrated carbon dioxide/oxygen module, precise temperature control, and linear- and double-orbital shaking. A special cell chip enables label-free cell counting in less than 30 seconds. For high-speed nucleic acid and protein quantification, it features monochromatic absorbance scanning in less than 10 seconds. Among the product’s firsts, according to Tecan, are a dedicated humidity cassette, the ability to use a combination of filters and monochromators in one scan, and a reagent dispenser with integrated heating and stirring. Pricing ranges from $15,000 to $60,000, depending on the configuration.

Tecan also launched the Fluent Laboratory Automation Solution for compound management, which joins the Fluent for cell-based assays, launched last summer (see IBO 7/51/14). New features of the compound-management platform include washable fixed tips for the Flexible Channel Arm, low-volume fixed tips and a tube-handling option for the robotic gripper arm. At its press conference, Tecan stated that the design goal for the Fluent was greater productivity per square meter. Other key components are throughput, which is enhanced with parallel processing by up to three independent arms, and a dynamic deck for flexibility, which allows for below-the-deck access of devices.

Also introducing a new multimode microplate reader at SLAS 2015 was Thermo Fisher Scientific. The Thermo Scientific Varioskan LUX adds Alpha screen technology to the measurement technologies (absorbance, fluorescence intensity, luminescence, time-resolved fluorescence) of other Varioskan plan readers. Other features include smart safety controls, such as automated plate check, and well-by-well automated dynamic-range selection. Thermo also introduced the Thermo Scientific Spinnaker Smart Laboratory Robot, a SCARA (selective compliance articulated robot arm) for four-axis rotation. It features integrated machine-vision technology for automated plate-placement correction and a camera for bar code reading.

Artel launched the SDS Sample Detection System, which is manufactured by STRATEC Biomedical. Artel is exclusively marketing the product in the US, Canada, Germany, Australia and Switzerland. The SDS provides in-process measurements of the sample volume of each microplate well by measuring changes in air pressure. Measurement of a 96-well plate takes 30 seconds, and the system can be used with all sample types. An automated arm can interface with the system. The System is priced at $49,900.

Gyros introduced the Gyrolab xPlore, a one-CD, lower-price version of its Gyrolab xP workstation, which processes up to five CDs of nanoliter-volume immunoassays. Applications include immunoassay development. The Gyros technology uses an affinity flow-through format, which provides 3–4 log dynamic range, and a workflow that takes less than an hour. The CDs can process 96 or 112 samples and are available in 20 nL, 200 nL or 1,000 nL volumes.

Douglas Scientific, makers of Array Tape consumables and systems for gene expression, introduced the IntelliQube, a mid- to low-throughput system for qPCR, end-point PCR and isothermal chemistries. Applications include SNP genotyping, gene expression and miRNA analysis. The system automates setup, amplification and analysis, including liquid handling, thermal cycling and fluorescence detection. A new Array Tape format features a 768-well format of 2 µL wells for running 1.6 µL reactions. The system integrates CyBio’s CyBi FeliX head. Dispensing time is 5–6 minutes per array.

At SLAS 2015, LabMinds launched its first product, the Revo, a fully automated liquid-solution production system for the preparation of buffer, stock, screening and related solutions. The system doses and mixes solid and liquid reagents, including storage, delivery and cleaning. It includes a water purifier, pH electrodes, conductivity sensors, and a web interface, which tracks distribution by user. The Revo can hold 14 solid containers and 12 liquid channels, and produces between 500 mL and 2 L amounts of solution.

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