Could multi-purpose technologies help tackle the laboratory space conundrum?

10/12/2021

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The scale of next-generation sequencing is expanding, and the efficiency of the sequence generation process has improved significantly over time. However, library and sample preparation bottlenecks remain troublesome inhibitors of productivity and speed in genomic research. Eager to overcome these obstacles, laboratory leaders have increasingly adopted automated solutions to tackle various aspects of the liquid handling workflows required for genomics studies. With a life sciences boom fueling a rapid uplift in genomic research demand, embracing liquid handling automation solutions is now imperative for laboratories of all sizes.

Inefficient use of valuable laboratory space

There are many challenges to automation adoption in genomic research – one of which is the simple matter of precious available laboratory space.

Automation technologies often demand substantial square footage, and when deciding which instruments to choose, there are complex trade-offs that include bench space considerations.

Beyond these inherent space requirements, automated liquid handling for NGS is naturally challenging, incorporating multiple essential tasks, including pipetting, dispensing, incubating, and mixing. All too often, full automation can only be accomplished by bringing together multiple single-task instruments and additional accessories into an integrated workflow. With each separate task integral to the research effort, it is, of course, critical to have the right tool for the right job.

Genomics workflows require reliable, precise and accurate pipetting and dispensing of challenging liquids such as enzymatic reagents and beads, often at very low volumes. Shaking and incubation tasks also benefit from the efficiency improvements of automation. Nevertheless, the current need for multiple single-purpose technologies and several instruments may result in inefficient use of valuable laboratory space.

With a thriving life sciences industry, and research investment at an all-time high, laboratory space is at a premium, bench space for equipment is becoming scarce and expensive. This reality puts heightened pressure on facilities to maximize the return on any instrument investment and their overall infrastructure.

In the UK alone, recent press has highlighted a severe lack of laboratory space supply in London, Cambridge, and Oxford research centers, with rents tipping upwards of £100 per square foot.

This demand is apparent around the world, including in US biotech hotspots such as Boston, where 50% of the five million square feet lab construction slated for completion by the end of 2022 is already leased. While larger pharmaceutical companies may have greater flexibility of resources and space, any facility needs to consider how they use their layout to ensure the maximum research productivity from every inch of their laboratory.

Multi-purpose technologies for liquid handling and other applications

Eliminating redundancies in equipment by considering multi-functional technologies with a more compact footprint would offer numerous benefits. These include lower direct costs, lower environmental impact, and a greater return on per square footage investment. 

The solutions may be more accessible than we think. With technologies continuing to advance at a pace, robust multi-purpose technologies incorporating liquid handling and other key application processes could deliver exceptional performance within a single unit and are now becoming a real possibility. Such innovations stand to offer the space-saving, research productivity and uptime boost that laboratory leaders so desperately need.

The firefly impact

firefly's innovative all-in-one liquid handling brings together multiple technologies within a single compact design for more efficient NGS library preparation. Underpinned by powerful, intuitive software, firefly unlocks the potential of automation for all to accelerate genomic research.

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