Accelerating Automation in Life Sciences with Robotic Pipettes

Piero Zucchelli and Nigel Skinner from Andrew Alliance discuss the development of a series of automated pipettes that save the effort of data collation by wirelessly collating data.

Andrew Alliance has automation at its core. Why do you consider this value important within the life sciences industry?

The identification of new drug targets leads to the successful development of current life­saving therapeutics, through the development of sophisticated instruments, bioinformatics, and highly valuable human tissue samples. The process incorporates rigorous hypotheses testing, tightly controlled experimental conditions, and the meticulous analysis of increasingly complex data sets. Consistent and precise preparation of these samples, and their handling, often with costly reagents, is key to this essential stage of the research discovery process.

Almost half of the annual $56 billion spent on research in the United States is used to repeat experiments due to errors made. Automation systems in the lab are used to ensure precision, minimize human error and increase repeatability.

Manual operations to perform tasks still take place in many laboratories, particularly in liquid handling. Though fully automated workflows are present in the diagnostics field, this is not yet the case for research, due to its requirements of flexibility and continuous workflow changes.

The mission of Andrew Alliance is to improve the quality of life science research work, by bestowing researchers with improved experiment repeatability, superior data and reliable research outcomes.

OneLab is the pinnacle of Andrew Alliance’s technological developments. Can you tell us about the technology and its benefits for researchers? 

Scientific advancement relies wholly on the researcher’s ability to execute specific protocol, to test a hypothesis, and for others to be able to repeat the experiment with the same outcomes. When errors occur in the conducting of an experiment, valuable time and resources are wasted. If these errors remain undiscovered by the peer review process, the time and funding of other research groups as well as the researcher’s reputation are placed at risk.

Andrew Alliance launched their unique browser-based intelligent software environment in February 2019, which lets researchers design, and share, their own protocols. This is achieved through a sensitive and intuitive graphical interface, which can then be executed in stages from any PC or tablet.

The possibilities of automated pipettes are endless. Consider the potential capacity of this automation, in which you could use an iPad to set up each step of your serial dilution, which would include all required labware and reagents. Then, one would be able to carry out the experiment automatically (on a pipetting robot) or semi­automatically (by remotely setting up the required volumes on an electronic pipette) which would eliminate the need for fiddly and awkward human effort.

This pipetting is only one of multiple stages in a life science experiment work flow. Other stages are equally significant: grabbing, heating, shaking, weighing, etc. Andrew Alliance and partners are formulating solutions to these problems, as they work towards a more ‘connected’ laboratory.

This frees time for the researcher to focus on higher level tasks, as well as providing full traceability. OneLab acquires data which details the precise actions of each step of an experiment, which has manifold advantages for troubleshooting and providing a full audit trail for regulated laboratories.

What is the potential for systematic errors, like pipetting the wrong volume, to affect research results? Are these errors common in laboratory science?

A basic laboratory procedure across many industries, liquid handling is a procedure found within diagnostics, biological research, food quality control, drug manufacturing, and environmental testing.

Liquid handling techniques require researcher emphasis on both accuracy and repeatability. To attain this, lengthy operator training, cross verification and quality control steps are required, including data duplication, blind controls and environmental monitoring to be set in place. Period validation of the tools involved is another essential part of this process.

An interlaboratory review of a biomarker assay for Alzheimer’s disease was conducted by Teunissen et al. This review achieved highly variable results, despite the fact that each lab received the same sample, same materials and same assay.

The authors commented that a major factor contributing to this incongruity was the variability in pipetting techniques. Certainly, in a simple qPCR experiment with a standard, routinely calibrated pipette, typical pipetting errors can result in DNA copy numbers varying by as much as 3%. This potential impact of this dissonance, on the results of an important translation biology experiment, or in a regulated diagnostic laboratory, could be incredibly significant!

What can you tell me about Andrew Alliance’s automated pipettes and how they are revolutionizing everyday research?

This pipetting system, Pipette+, is the world’s first truly intelligent pipetting system. Andrew Alliance pipettes are co­-developed and co-manufactured with market leader Sartorius, and are able to communicate wirelessly with OneLab through the medium of a unique intelligent stand.

They boast an automatic setting of volume and pipette parameters, a confirmation of the correct pipette selection, and monitored usage, which guarantees systematic and accurate identification of such sources behind pipetting errors.

A greater amount of time can then be spared for higher activities, rather than wasted on repeating experiments. The need for greater automation increases as experimental throughputs increase, which is fully addressed by Andrew Alliance’s Andrew+ Pipetting Robot.

The multi-award winning and highly successful Andrew Pipetting Robot, launched in 2013, was the precursor to Andrew+, with the former used in many laboratories around the world. Offering fully automated pipetting and complex manipulations, it is compatible with a wide range of accessories as well as Andrew Alliance electronic pipettes.

The technology enables rapid transition from laborious manual procedures to error­-free, as it takes full advantage of OneLab’s capacity for robotic workflows, enabling improved reproducibility and productivity, coupled with full traceability. In addition, it offers health benefits, reducing the need for repetitive movement and hazardous material exposure.

How are such technologies used by researchers? In which fields are they most applicable?

Pipetting is not only used in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology fields but is widely used across the life sciences, as well as in areas like environmental testing, food testing, environmental testing, cosmetics research, forensics, and the hydrocarbon petrochemical industry.

Known as the ‘omics’, departments such as genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and glycomics fall within many of these sectors. It is vital to have accurate pipetting in these areas, which is a key driver in their adoption of these technologies.  

Many genomics experiments include a component of PCR or qPCR, which necessitates the accurate addition of components or careful preparation of a standard curve. Many publications indicate that not only careful pipetting but also a calibrated pipette is essential to obtaining the accurate data, due to the aforementioned risks of pipetting error.

Proteomics, unlike genomics, has a finite number of assay endpoint methods, and has a much more diverse and broader range of assay methodologies and purification procedures. Each step is capable of adding to the dissonance and inaccuracy of the data generated, so the analysis of the final sample in the assay methodology and endpoint detection system chosen is critical.

Do you consider it inevitable that laboratory science will advance over the next 50 years? What will the role of the scientist become as research becomes more automatable?

The fields of bioscreening and pharmaceuticals have long held automated processes. For food, forensic and environmental analysis of analytes, the workflow situation is different. Extensive manual activities still rule these departments - except for highly automated analyzers used for analytical measurements- as in methods for digestions, dissolution of solids, and the use of volatile media.

It seems clear that a higher degree of automation, alongside the inclusion of artificial intelligence, will dictate the analytical laboratory of the future. These advancements will enable greater autonomy in decision making, as well as improving both staff productivity and complete traceability.

About Andrew Alliance S.A.

Andrew Alliance is an independent, privately financed company, based in Geneva, Boston and Paris. The company was created in March 2011.

Andrew Alliance is dedicated to advance science by working with scientists to create a new class of easy-to-use robots and connected devices that take repeatability, performance, and efficiency of laboratory experiments to the level required by 21st-century biology.

Start with meeting customer needs, end with customer feedback.

Andrew Alliance delivers solutions that are focused on customer needs, both today and in the future. Our products are manufactured to the highest standards, using a range of carefully selected, proven, and sustainable technologies, that ensure both high performance and reliability. We actively seek continuous customer feedback, in order to guarantee the best possible design outcomes.

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Last updated: Oct 19, 2020 at 8:07 AM


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