Nathaniel Hentz, PhD, vice president at Artel has taught biopharmaceutical assay development and validation at the BTEC Analytical Lab at NC State University, and developed automated screening systems for Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly.
John Derent, global account manager at Artel, has acquired a deep understanding of automated liquid handlers and laboratory operations over his 20 years of experience in laboratory automation.
Q: Why are more and more clinical labs choosing to adopt automated liquid handlers (ALH)?
JD: Automated liquid handlers (ALHs) allow for standardized and reliable liquid handling, reducing variability and improving assay precision. Additionally, ALHs provide better traceability since automation steps are recorded and can be reviewed later. By shifting routine, manual procedures to an ALH, lab personnel can save their time and cognitive resources for complex tasks, improving job satisfaction and increasing productivity.
Q: What changes in precision do labs experience with An ALH?
JD: Many labs see improvements in results when they transfer from manual to automated platforms because of the reduction in operator variability that occurs with manual pipette operation. With ALHs, labs may notice an immediate improvement in precision, especially when transferring small volumes and for high-throughput tasks. ALHs neither tire from working long hours nor experience fluctuations during shift changes, which otherwise add variability to assay results.
Q: What should a lab consider when selecting an ALH for their lab?
NH: We have worked with many labs to ensure that the ALH they choose meets their immediate and longer-term needs, from small benchtop to large fully integrated units with multiple accessories, based on the following considerations:
- Budget: Given the cost of ALHs ranges from less than $10,000 to more than $250,000, in addition to maintenance and technical support, what can your lab afford?
- Lab environment: What are your lab’s space constraints? Where will the instrument be located? How well-controlled is the environment (temperature, humidity, etc.)?
- Lab personnel: Do you have an expert dedicated to automation, or will there be multiple occasional users of your ALH?
- Servicing and maintenance: Will you service the ALH in house, or will you outsource yearly tune-up and preventive maintenance?
- Use of liquid handler: What assays do you work with? Do you need the ALH to perform one repetitive task, or should it be able to multitask and be flexible?
JD: In addition, automated systems require their own quality program tailored to the equipment and the lab processes, including optimization procedures, routine testing, preventative maintenance, and a plan for ad-hoc verifications.
Q: What does "optimized liquid handling" mean and how can labs assess it?
NH: Optimized liquid handling refers to how accurate and precise the dispense volume is for a liquid transfer. It depends on several liquid class parameters, such as aspirate and dispense speed, tip immersion depth, tip withdrawal speed, etc. When automating an assay, optimization is critical. While there are different ways of measuring volume during optimization, the ratiometric absorbance technique developed by Artel is the only method that can measure both accuracy and precision.