As the world is reeling from the impact of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the global medical and scientific community is painstakingly working to contain, screen, and develop vaccines and treatments against this new strain of the coronavirus (designated SARs-CoV-2). At FORMULATRIX, we are collaborating with researchers to support this global effort.
Our automation and software solutions are being used around the world in a variety of ways to help combat the virus. To help develop new therapies, our instruments are aiding scientists in determining the structures of the proteins found on the virus, via protein crystallization. Our liquid handlers are being used to help labs to speed up their testing and screening work which involve qPCR and ELISA workflows and to minimizing their reaction sizes to conserve their precious reagents, such as polymerase or master mixes.
Drug Discovery: Role of Automation in the Fight Against COVID-19
Time is of the essence when it comes to COVID-19 research. Researchers from around the world are collaborating on a massive scale to understand this strain of the coronavirus including determining the structures of the proteins found on the virus. The faster scientists can solve the structures of these proteins, the faster new therapies can be developed and ultimately, save lives.
COVID-19 researchers need to be able to screen thousands of compounds to produce the diffraction-quality crystals they need for structure determination. In order to do this, laboratories are being outfitted with robotic automation and integrated software to increase the throughput of their protein crystallization experiments.
FORMULATRIX made ROCK IMAGERs® with high capacity hotel storage aid researchers in their ability to rapidly grow the protein crystals they need. The hotels help scientists maintain the optimal temperature conditions for crystal growth while taking thousands of images on an automated schedule to monitor when the crystals were ready to be harvested for data collection. The imagers can also provide the ability to distinguish which crystals are protein and which are not with the use of specialized UV imaging technology which allows researchers to quickly rule out crystals that are not their target protein.
Crystal images provided by the High-Throughput Crystallization Center at the Hauptman-Woodward Institute, a crystallization core lab running several COVID-19 projects.
Conducting crystallization experiments on this scale produces massive amounts of data that needs to be organized and accessible. The ROCK MAKER® Crystallization Software helps researchers understand which conditions lead to the optimal crystal growth of the various proteins found on SARS-CoV-2. The integrated software allows crystallographers to have a single database of all their experiment data that links seamlessly with ROCK IMAGERs to provide an efficient all-in-one solution.
Screening Patients: Helping to Identify those Suffering from COVID-19
Testing for COVID-19 has been an ongoing bottleneck in the fight against the virus. Accurately and rapidly knowing if someone is infected with the virus allows healthcare professionals to properly quarantine and treat patients. This isolation and identification aids in preventing the spread of the virus, as well as providing the necessary treatment for the symptoms of the disease.
The initial diagnostic testing for COVID-19 involves collecting and testing specimens for screening at local laboratories for the presence of the SARs-CoV-2 virus. With the increasing need to process specimens faster and with great accuracy, laboratories are turning to automation for help. The MANTIS® and TEMPEST® Liquid Handlers have been chosen to aid laboratories around the world, including the PathWest Laboratory Medicine WA in Australia, Ghent University in Belgium and GENETWORx in the United States to screen specimen samples to help diagnose those with COVID-19.
Speed is of the Utmost Importance
Laboratories are looking for liquid handling automation as soon as possible to begin diagnostic testing right away, which makes lead time to receiving the instrumentation a concern. However, at FORMULATRIX, teams have rallied to answer this concern and meet the demand. Our production team has ramped up building instruments, Regional Account Managers have begun an online education series, and there are a number of examples of Account Managers providing personal demo instruments for screening labs until the final instrument could be delivered.
FORMULATRIX collaborated with Balai Besar Litbang Vektor dan Reservoir Penyakit (B2P2VRP) Salatiga, the official COVID-19 research center of Central Java. With the MANTIS available to the Salatiga team, samples will now be processed directly (previously the testing could only be performed in Jakarta), therefore speeding up the testing process.
Reduce Cost and Maximize Reagent Use
As there is an overwhelming number of tests that need to be run, precious reagents such as expensive reagent mixtures are becoming difficult to obtain, the overall cost of testing is climbing and the availability of materials is becoming more difficult. The MANTIS and TEMPEST can help reduce laboratory costs by miniaturizing reactions to increase throughput and lower the cost per test. The systems provide the ability to use 384-well microliter plates vs. 96-well plates, miniaturizing or reducing the amount of reagent to use per test and increasing the number of tests able to be run simultaneously.
These are some examples of how FORMULATRIX is collaborating with scientists to solve the difficult medical problems that the world faces today and reflects the real importance of the work our clients do. We are thankful for all the researchers who are trying to reduce the impact of COVID-19 through their discoveries in the pursuit to develop novel therapies and a safe vaccine.
It is immensely inspiring for all of us at FORMULATRIX knowing that our automation and software solutions are being used in the fight against COVID-19 and we are honored to be a part of the global solution.