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Techniques & Tools Pharma & Biopharma, Technology, Mass Spectrometry

Sound Boost from Big Pharma

Labcyte’s acoustic liquid handling system Echo aims to prevent errors that generate misleading results in drug development by using sound waves to dispense a wide variety of liquids in nanoliter increments (see figure 1). Now, AstraZeneca has proven its interest by collaborating on the development of an instrument that delivers test samples into a mass spectrometer. The hope? That it will generate better results at lower costs than traditional systems, which tend to suffer from transfer errors and sample contamination.


Figure 1: Acoustic energy is transmitted by a transducer through the bottom of a multi-welled reservoir and focused at the fluid meniscus. This causes a volumetrically precise droplet of fluid to be ejected from the source plate. The droplet is captured at the destination by surface tension. To transfer a larger volume, more droplets are transferred. Transfer of fluid is rapid with droplets being ejected as frequently as 500 times a second.

According to senior director Brad Nelson, “The goal of the project is to enable high speed acoustic loading of samples into a mass spectrometer, directly from an assay plate. This capability would enable direct detection of native analytes, without the use of surrogates, radioactivity, coupled assays, or indirect measurements. It would be a transformative capability for drug discovery”.

Labcyte’s system featured in the July issue of The Analytical Scientist in an article that concluded that it did not wish to oversell the impact of the failure of serial dilutions in high-throughput screening (HTS) applications, but suggested there may be instances where researchers follow dead-end compounds in a doomed attempt to discover new drugs. A comment online disagreed only with the timid stance of the statement: “The last paragraph of this article is not an ‘oversell’ but rather fairly states the risk of continuing to use ‘widespread and deeply entrenched’ pipettes and serial dilution processes. For all the reasons given, not switching to acoustic direct dispensing seems unjustifiable.”

Mike Snowden, AstraZeneca VP Discovery Sciences, said in a press release that it was two of their own scientists that discovered the potential benefits. He went on to say, “Combining acoustic delivery with mass spectrometry has the potential to open up new areas of science through transformational improvements in sampling rates and reductions in sampling volumes.”

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About the Author
Rich Whitworth

Rich Whitworth completed his studies in medical biochemistry at the University of Leicester, UK, in 1998. To cut a long story short, he escaped to Tokyo to spend five years working for the largest English language publisher in Japan. "Carving out a career in the megalopolis that is Tokyo changed my outlook forever. When seeing life through such a kaleidoscopic lens, it's hard not to get truly caught up in the moment." On returning to the UK, after a few false starts with grey, corporate publishers, Rich was snapped up by Texere Publishing, where he spearheaded the editorial development of The Analytical Scientist. "I feel honored to be part of the close-knit team that forged The Analytical Scientist – we've created a very fresh and forward-thinking publication." Rich is now also Content Director of Texere Publishing, the company behind The Analytical Scientist.

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