Forensic Institute

COVID-19 testing lab established in record time with flowbot® ONE

In the outskirts of Glasgow, a state-of-the-art COVID-19 testing lab is running around the clock. The lab belongs to the Forensic Institute and, with Director Professor Allan Jamieson and Laboratory Manager Sara Gomes at the wheels, a team of 10 scientists established it in only a few months last summer. The laboratory was built with the capacity to test thousands of COVID-19 samples per day.

“Sara and I designed the system for COVID-19 PCR testing to be able to process thousands of samples per day. For reasons of safety and efficiency, we decided to use robotic systems for liquid handling,” says Allan as we caught up with him while he was waiting for the next batch of samples to be processed overnight.

Among the equipment, that makes the laboratory so efficient, is the flowbot® ONE.

From 96-well plates to 384-well plates

PCR testing is a complicated process that requires a large number of pipetting tasks per sample. The Forensic Institute has implemented two flowbot® ONEs to carry that heavy manual workload. One of them deals with preparation of the 96-well plates to receive the samples. The other one transfers from four 96-well plates into 384-well plates for maximum efficiency in the qPCR. This is something that is quite awkward to do manually and has a risk of contamination.

From our point of view, the best feature in the flowbot® ONE is that it is able to transfer from 96-well plates into 384-well plates. That was the feature that drove us towards it and, because it has 12 areas for the plates, it gives us a lot of flexibility around what operations we can perform on the plates.

Professor Allan Jamieson - Director, the Forensic Institute

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“We haven’t even exploited the full versatility of the robot simply because we have a very specific application. But even within that application, we can easily program the robot to do exactly what we want. The staff had never worked with a robot before and they are now very comfortable programming the robot and carrying out experiments with it so that’s testimony to how easy the robot is to use,” he adds.

Looking towards the future

Allan expects that their future is going be within precision medicine. “We have to determine whether the robot is going to be involved there but I am quite certain that the plate technology will be here for a long time. The reality is that having the robot allows you to do things on a very good cost-per-sample basis because it means a lot less labor, doing it faster and with precision and increased safety.”

For now, they will continue to focus on improving healthcare by making PCR testing a fast and easy process, Allan Jamieson concludes as the flowbot® ONEs steadily transfer liquids in the next room.

It is a pleasure to work with Flow Robotics and it is reassuring to know that they are on top of things.

One of the reasons why we chose Flow Robotics is because of their service and collaboration. It means a lot of me, as a director, that we can get easy and fast access to the people who make decisions.

Professor Allan Jamieson - Director, the Forensic Institute

About the Forensic Institute

The Forensic Institute in Glasgow was founded in 1999 as an international network of experts providing professional forensic services to the legal profession, in addition to providing a significant academic resource.  Their work includes criminal cases in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Cyprus and the USA.

Their extensive expertise is drawn from across the world and includes public and private forensic science laboratories, individuals, and academic establishments. Quite simply, the Institute uses the world’s leading experts to provide one of the most comprehensive and high-quality sources of forensic scientific and managerial expertise anywhere.

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