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New techniques in laboratories cause lower cost and more flexibility

New techniques enable to automate the entire workflow in laboratories. In this way, bottlenecks are eliminated and equally qualitative and precise results can be achieved at a lower cost and with greater flexibility.
Interview with Luc Van Laer, Product Manager Analis. 
Text: Joris Hendrickx

Within your activities, what are the most remarkable developments?
"Analis is a distributor of scientific instruments in the Benelux. We offer great added value by combining the solutions of various suppliers and then bringing that whole package to the market. We have a very extensive range of products, particularly in the field of genomics , which enables us to offer the most complete package. The greatest evolutions have taken place within this field in recent decades, just think of the new developments for nucleic acids sequencing (next generation sequencing), which allows us to map out certain diseases very quickly. This has also proven to be of enormous value for the rapid development of COVID-19-vaccines."

What  technologies are you using to respond to new and changing needs through COVID-19? 
"One of our suppliers was the first company outside of China to market a  PCR-kit for COVID-19 That has opened a lot of doors for us in the past year. By the way, before the sample is ready for the PCR test, the virus must first be removed from the medium. This is done by means of RNA extraction. In our range we have devices that allow that process to be automated. With the current explosion in worldwide demand for tips and plastics for COVID-19-testing, it is more than ever clear that pipetting with tips offers many disadvantages. It is impossible for manufacturers to scale up production quickly enough to meet current demand. Some laboratories have been forced to switch to alternative pipetting tips, but it is crucial to be able to control the quality and precision of the volume transfers. We offer products that allow for easy quality control. We also have a revolutionary technology in our range for moving liquids in very small quantities very quickly and with very high precision, without making physical contact. That provides a lot of advantages over the classic way of pipetting and even over automated pipetting by robots."

In cancer research, the non-contact movement of very small volumes of fluids allows for the rapid investigation of what pre-existing medications might still be used for. 

So how exactly does it work?

"Specifically, the movement of the liquid is done using sound waves. Under the liquid to be pipetted passes a sensor that detects the volume and properties of the liquid, as well as the energy required to move one or more 2,5 nanoliter drops.
Sound waves then ensure that the desired volumes are shot to a plate that hangs upside down above the filled container. This method is not only very fast and precise, it is also very flexible. Unlike traditional liquid handlers, you are no restrained by the physical limitations of your pipette. You can shoot from one source to different locations on the destination plate, with any liquid and any volume. Moreover, this allows you to miniaturize the volumes. This has also been a huge advantage with COVID-19, because it allowed to do many more PCR assays with the same cost and materials."
What is the added value of these technologies for cancer research?

"In cancer research, the non-contact movement of very small volumes of fluids allows to quickly investigate what existing medication could still be used for, whether or not in combination with other medication. If that research had to be done on a large scale, it would simply be too expensive. You would have to have all those molecules and mix them in various proportions to see whether they were effective.
In that context, our technology is a door opener that suddenly makes this feasible and affordable, without sacrificing accuracy and precision. As a result, it is already widely used, for example by companies such as Janssen Pharmaceutica and Galapagos who use it to prepare screening plates for further research."
And within the field of synthetic biology? 

"Within this field of research, one modifies biological organisms to perform specific tasks. For example, CRISPR/Cas9 - a gene-editing technique whose founders received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year - is used to modify DNA at certain well-defined sites. This cutting and pasting of DNA creates new synthetic genes that allow, among other things, the production of new drugs, proteins, enzymes or other molecules. The non-contact dispensing technology with sound waves is crucial for synthetic biology workflows because high-quality synthetic DNA constructs can be produced on a smaller scale - and thus cheaper and, above all, much faster.