Pandemic ready: How to rapidly scale up liquid handling in diagnostic labs

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Pandemic ready: How to rapidly scale up liquid handling in diagnostic labs

PCR testing and serology workflows using INTEGRA's range of liquid handling products

The safe collection of samples

Right from the start of any COVID-19 workflow, products are needed for safe collection, transfer and preservation of viral specimens. Xebios Diagnostics in Düsseldorf, Germany, manufactures high quality, ready-to-use viral transport medium (VTM) for microbiological diagnostic applications. The DOSE IT peristaltic pump enables the company to quickly and efficiently aliquot VTM into individual sterile screw-capped tubes to meet market demands for viral specimen media.

Find out how Xebios Diagnostics is using the DOSE IT.

Scientist using the DOSE IT peristaltic pump in a laminar flow cabinet
Photo courtesy of Xebios Diagnostics

From tubes to plates

In serological and PCR testing workflows, patient samples then have to be transferred from individual collection tubes – either blood collection or swab tubes – to microplates. VOYAGER adjustable tip spacing pipettes are ideal for this, allowing automatic adjustment of tip spacing at the touch of a button, for fast, simultaneous reformatting of up to 12 samples between different types of labware. For full workflow automation, the ASSIST PLUS pipetting robot can streamline an array of routine pipetting tasks, such as tube to plate reformatting. The global demand for consumables during the COVID-19 crisis resulted in some labs having to use swab tubes of different sizes and diameters. The versatility of the ASSIST PLUS allowed various tube types to be used simply by changing minor parameters in the program, affecting just one step in the workflow.

ASSIST PLUS pipetting robot automating SARS-CoV-2 RNA extraction

Nucleic acid extraction

After reformatting, nucleic acid extraction is required before PCR – the go-to method to test for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The VIAFLO 96/384 handheld electronic pipette is an ideal option for boosting throughput when adding buffers or samples to 96 or 384 wells in parallel, and is perfect to use with a with range of extraction methods, including a number of magnetic bead purification protocols, as well as various silica-based kits using vacuum manifolds. California-based medical device company Neoteryx LLC depends on this flexible instrument to reliably and reproducibly process thousands of samples per day as an integral part of its new high throughput biological sample collection and processing system for quantifying undetected cases of coronavirus infections in the United States.

PCR set-up

PCR set-up – including mixing of the Master Mix and viral nucleic acids – is time consuming and error-prone. Our electronic pipettes can help increase productivity and reproducibility in these stages for improved PCR, which is why the Microbiology and Molecular Pathology Department at Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology (SNP) in Brisbane, Australia, partnered with us to improve COVID-19 testing of patient samples. There was a clear need for additional automated liquid handling instruments to increase sample processing capacity, and so they developed and validated an automated pipetting protocol using a VOYAGER adjustable tip spacing pipette and reagent reservoirs with SureFlo™ anti-sealing array on an ASSIST PLUS pipetting robot. This enabled samples to be prepared more efficiently in low volume, 384 well plates for subsequent processing on a rapid, high throughput, plate-based, real-time PCR amplification and detection instrument. For flexibility, the protocol can also be readily adapted to 96 well format.

ASSIST PLUS pipetting robot testing patient samples for COVID-19
Photo courtesy of Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology

Serology

As the spread of the pandemic has progressed, there has been a growing need for serology tests to analyze the immune responses of individual patients, as well as to assess immunity in the population. These immunoassays – which are vital to track whether a second peak is likely and adjust lockdown restrictions accordingly – often involve a number of aspiration steps to remove buffers after incubation and washing. That’s where our VACUSIP portable aspiration system comes into its own! It’s an extremely safe and convenient method of liquid waste removal, fitting seamlessly into these workflows.

VACUSIP aspiration system in combination with a multichannel adapter for aspiration of liquids from well-plates

Futureproof systems for life before, during and after COVID-19

Our portfolio of products is perfect for laboratories that have had to adjust their workflows to meet urgent COVID-19 demands, requiring rapid implementation and scale-up of new and existing processes. Luckily, with our family of products, there is something to help every workflow and this crisis has been an extreme demonstration of their versatility.