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The scale of the challenge for clinical diagnostics labs around the world quickly became apparent when the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic hit in 2020. Assays to identify the virus were rapidly developed to isolate patients and monitor the spread of the virus but, with shortages of reagents and labware, and the sheer number of samples expected, scaled-up testing was desperately needed. Thermo Fisher Scientific supplies labs with the qPCR equipment that was central to testing, but wanted to do more to support the global efforts, and so set about developing a solution for high throughput screening.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of biosurveillance to understand, control and limit the spread of human diseases. In response to the pandemic, the laboratories at PTP Science Park in Lodi, Italy, quickly enhanced their set-up, introducing various assays to gain a deeper understanding of the virus. Researchers now not only diagnose COVID-19, but also measure anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody levels after infection and vaccination to learn about the pathogenesis of the disease and how our immune systems respond to infection.
When the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic hit in 2020, researchers from the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht, Netherlands, felt compelled to support the national COVID-19 testing strategy, which was suffering with limited capacity. Recognizing that the gold standard PCR test worked well to identify SARS-CoV-2 positive patients, the institute’s challenges lay in the logistics and a need to automate the process. A fortuitous introduction to an automation expert from Genmab was the start of a successful collaboration, which grew to involve a number of additional partners, and has significantly increased the capacity of SARS-CoV-2 testing in the Netherlands through the development of the STRIP-1 robot.
The race has been on since the start of the pandemic to develop vaccines and drugs to fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Vaccine development has proven successful, with vaccine roll-out underway in many countries, but the need remains to identify drugs that can treat the disease for those who have not been vaccinated, or for those where the vaccine is not effective enough to prevent disease. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Translational Medicine and Pharmacology (ITMP) in Hamburg, Germany, have been using high throughput drug approaches to screen compound libraries for candidate antiviral drugs.
Flow cytometry (FCM) is a powerful analytical tool with applications spanning a variety of disciplines. Sample preparation prior to cytometry, however, is traditionally slow and prone to human error, which can drain precious time and resources from laboratories already under constant pressures. Sysmex has developed a unique automation solution to rapidly accelerate sample preparation for FCM applications – heightening efficiency and flexibility to ease the strain on laboratory professionals.
Bacterial endotoxin testing (BET) is an important quality control check for the pharmaceutical and biomedical industries, ensuring that injectable or intravenous drugs and implantable medical devices are safe to use. Lonza offers a wide range of reliable BET solutions for QC labs, including high throughput, automated systems for microplate-based endotoxin detection.
Metagenomics is rapidly emerging as a promising method for disease diagnosis, but the need for manual processing is delaying turnaround times and limiting clinical uptake. Dr John Rossen, Head of Global Research & Development and Product Strategy for Europe at IDbyDNA Inc, discusses how the company has developed a test that can give detailed diagnostic reports on pathogens associated with respiratory infections and urinary tract infections, and how automation will speed the transition of this assay from research to routine testing in clinics.
US-based company zPREDICTA™ has created a novel 3D technology that reconstructs physiologically-relevant and organ-specific human microenvironments for drug discovery and development. High throughput cell imaging and real-time cytometry of these 3D cultures can give a day-by-day account of cellular behavior and modulations of various immune cell populations to evaluate the efficacy of anticancer drugs.
Chromosomal tagging using advanced fluorescent labeling techniques can help us to understand cells at a systemic level. Researchers in Germany have developed a universal approach for CRISPR-Cas12a-assisted PCR tagging of mammalian genes, using scalable live cell imaging to optimize their methods.
The advent of new genetics technologies has exploded in the last decade. Since the unravelling of the human genome project in 2003, and with recent discoveries in the field of epigenetics, we are starting to understand not only how and when genes are expressed, but which post-translational modifications are important in disease, and how we can manipulate them therapeutically. Professor Christopher E Mason has developed new technologies to catalog genetic and epigenetic changes caused by everything from cancers to novel viruses, and these tools have proven invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carbonic anhydrases (CAs) catalyze the reaction between water and carbon dioxide to regulate pH and fluid balance in vivo. Deviations in CA activity have been shown to correlate with bone, lung and liver diseases, as well as obesity, type II diabetes and even epilepsy. Professor Areej Abuhammad and her team at the University of Jordan are interested in developing novel therapies to counteract imbalances in CA activity, using protein crystallography to investigate a wide range of potential inhibitors.
Laboratory automation is increasingly common in life sciences research, helping to tackle some of the challenges that come with manual workflows, including inefficient operation, limited throughput and challenges of reproducibility. However, most automated platforms still require human operators to set up reagents, transfer plates between machines, and clean down afterwards. Dr Koichi Takahashi and his colleagues at the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research in Japan are developing a new type of laboratory automation workflow system that combines humanoid and other types of robots, creating a prototype for the lab of the future.