The outbreak and development of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) has placed exceptional strains on laboratories examining patient samples for COVID-19. Scientific personnel are left to take on an escalating influx of COVID-19 samples and a swift, constant increase in workload.
Part of the Sonic Healthcare Group based in Brisbane, Australia, the Microbiology and Molecular Pathology Department at Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology (SNP) faces many challenges, one of which is the growing demand on laboratory automation utilized for pre-existing respiratory virus panel testing and coronavirus.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, SNP was left to investigate enormous quantities of samples, which depleted its automation platform capacity.
Staff simultaneously had to contend with the demand to spend a greater amount of time developing unique virus testing protocols. These were commonly performed manually or by utilizing semi-automated techniques to fast track test response times, leaving them prone to greater ergonomic strain.
There was a clear necessity to limit manual intervention by laboratory analysts, to optimize the capacity of sample processing through the addition of automated liquid handling instruments, and to make assay development faster for the testing of COVID-19 samples.
James Sundholm and Kelly Magin from BioTools Pty Ltd, INTEGRA’s Australian distributor, collaborated with Shane Byrne, the Scientific Department Head of the Microbiology and Molecular Pathology Department, in early March 2020 to assist in the testing of COVID-19 patient samples utilizing the ASSIST PLUS pipetting robot.
An ASSIST PLUS automated pipetting protocol was produced and authenticated, allowing samples to be prepared in low volume, 384 well plates for further testing on a high-throughput, efficient, real-time, plate-based PCR detection and amplification instrument.
Low Retention GripTips™ and a VOYAGER adjustable tip spacing pipette were utilized to move One-step RT PCR Mastermix into a 384 well plate from a low dead volume (less than 20 µl) SureFlo™ 10 ml Reagent Reservoir.
The VOYAGER pipette additionally enabled the automatic reformatting and transfer of nucleic acid template taken from a combination of sputum samples or oropharyngeal/nasopharyngeal flocked swab(s) into the 384 well plate from 4 x FluidX™ 1.0 ml 96 format tube racks.
The complete PCR reaction volume was decreased to 10 µl, consisting of 2.5 µl of nucleic acid template and 7.5 µl One-step RT PCR Mastermix. This reduction doubled the available testing capacity, along with decreasing the consumption of costly One-Step RT PCR reagents of diminishing availability, with related cost savings.
SNP effectively verified the automated protocol against its existing manual processing technique by employing a handheld electronic pipette. The results were proven to be accurate, reproducible, and precise, with no contamination found in either the patient or control samples.
Within five working days, the small-scale, simple-to-use ASSIST PLUS pipetting robot, along with the validated protocol, was fully in action. While the present protocol utilizes 384 well plates, this can be easily modified to a 96 well format to meet future demands.
About INTEGRA Biosciences
INTEGRA provides innovative solutions for Liquid Handling and Media Preparation applications which serve the needs of their customers in research, diagnostics and quality control laboratories.
Their instruments and plastic consumables are developed and manufactured in Zizers, Switzerland and Hudson, NH USA. In order to remain close to their customers, they maintain a direct sales and support organization in North America, the UK, France and Germany, as well as a network of over 100 highly trained distribution partners worldwide.
In recent years they have focused on developing a new and technologically advanced range of handheld electronic pipettes which are simple to use and meet the ergonomic needs of their customers.
Today they are proud to offer the widest range of electronic pipettes in the market spanning a range from single channel pipettes up to 384 channel bench-top instruments.
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