When the Corona virus pandemic emerged last year, QLife, a Danish medical technology company that works with assay development for diagnostics, responded quickly. They decided to set up a COVID-19 testing facility servicing mainly professional athletes and private companies with a need for fast test results.
Since spring, QLife has been using flowbot® ONE in their COVID-19 test facilities and after successful implementation of the first robot, now several flowbots are dedicated to their COVID-19 screening process.
By changing to automated pipetting we have been able to scale up from a couple of hundred tests analysed to more than 1000 per day. We have also adjusted the robot to fit with our choice of tubes and volume quite easily, so we were able to switch smoothly from manual pipetting to the flowbot® ONE fast.
Thomas Danielsen, PhD is an assay biochemist and together with his team at QLife, he manages the robots in their COVID-19 testing facility. He explains: “Both our newly developed point-of-care SARS-CoV2 detection assay for professional use and our large scale COVID-19 screening facility supports the high demand for testing capacity in the fight against the pandemic.”
In the testing facility the robots are used in two main steps: First, the robots help pool patient samples to save time in the downstream analysis as well as reducing the amount of reagents and plastic materials consumed. In the second step we use flowbots for transferring eluates from patient samples into the PCR plate where it is mixed with enzymatic reagents before the analysis get done on the PCR machine.
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Prior to using the flowbots, all pipetting was done manually in the labs. Maiken W. Rosenstierne, Head of Assay development explains: “As the need for COVID-19 tests exploded we realised we had to scale up our throughput of analysing tests. If we had continued with doing this manually, we had to have staff pipetting 24/7.”
Maiken continues: “At that time we already had lab technicians with pain from repetitive work routines due to manual pipetting. We decided to automate the pipetting processes and were fortunate to find Flow Robotics. They went out of their way to enable a fast delivery of the robots we needed.“
Thomas comments: Setting up a diagnostic screening facility requires a well organised and structured workflow all the way from receiving the patient samples to processing and analysing the result. As we expected, a large scale flux of samples would require automation in all steps possible. We have obtained that with flowbot® ONE.
Thomas and his team working with flowbot® ONE
Thomas was involved in the setup of the robots and explains: Getting the flowbot® ONEs up and running was simple and an easy process. Flow Robotics were helpful in making sure we had all the right racks for tubes and adaptors for various pipette boxes. Most had to be custom-made but that was no problem. As we were new to robotics we obviously needed training and the service team made sure we got the programs up and running for our specific need.
Maiken continues: “What I like about our choice of robot is that it is Danish. In these COVID-19 times we have had problems with other deliveries when dealing with products from other countries. With flowbot® ONE we know the help is not far away and so are whatever we need in order to continue testing without breakdowns.
Some of the other liquid handling companies have long delivery times and as a minor company, as we are, it can be difficult to get prioritised – this we have not experienced with Flow Robotics and I really appreciate this as what we’re working on is crucial for fighting COVID-19 – efficiency and speed are so important.”
Due to the increased screening of COVID-19 on a global scale it has from time to time been difficult for QLife to obtain pipette tips and therefore they have been forced to frequently change between pipette tips. Thomas explains: With flowbot® ONE we can switch easily between different pipette tips and here the Flow Robotics service team has been very helpful whenever we needed to adjust the flowbot for new types of filter tips.
As long as needed, QLife will be using the flowbots for COVID-19 screening as they are crucial to their fight against the pandemic. However, long term, the plan is to include the robots to assist in the assay development department.
By changing to automated pipetting with flowbot® ONE, QLife has been able to scale up from a couple of hundred tests analysed to more than 1000 per day on average. So far the record is 1600 test in one day, but with the current setup it can be adjusted so more than 5000 samples can go through the lab in a day!