SLAS 2017: New Product Families Unveiled

The annual SLAS conference and exhibit was held February 4–8 in Washington, DC. Attendance was down 19.3% from last year, when the show was held in San Diego, California (see IBO 1/31/17), but boasted an additional 400 participants compared to 2015, when the show was last held in Washington, DC (see IBO 1/30/15). The West Coast edition of the show is typically more popular, according to SLAS. The number of exhibitors fell 8.1% to 320. SLAS 2018 will be held February 3–7 in San Diego, California.

In a presentation to SLAS exhibitors, SDi highlighted market data and trends for five categories of life science instrumentation and product markets: genetic assays and technologies, cellular and biochemical assays, and automation and equipment. The fastest growing markets over a five-year period within these categories are expected to be imaging techniques, cellular and biochemical assays, and analytical technologies.

Among the regular exhibiting companies was Corning Life Sciences. Speaking with IBO, Richard Eglen, PhD, president of Life Sciences and General Manager of Life Sciences for Corning, discussed the company’s ability to develop the 3-D cell culture market. Its products include spheroid plates, which enable automation and scalability, and other consumables, as well as software, and live-cell imaging systems.

There were a number of new products that debuted at show, many targeting NGS, cell analysis and protein characterization. The show is a major exhibition for liquid handling and sample management systems. In recent years, biosensor and cell analysis products have also become a increasing focus due to the evolution of drug discovery and development.

Liquid Handling

At SLAS 2017, Beckman Coulter Life Sciences re-emerged as an innovator in automated liquid handling with the launch of the Biomek i-Series Automated Workstations. These systems are the first major addition to the company’s Biomek liquid handling platform in 13 years. The new designs reflect input from customers around the world for solutions that provide enhanced protocol flexibility.

The Biomek i5 Workstation has 25 deck positions; the Biomek i7 Workstation has 45 deck positions that can support higher-throughput and more complex workflows. Both the Biomek i5 and i7 Workstations have a large-volume, 1 mL multi-channel pipetting head; a rotating gripper; a 4D-open platform design; onboard cameras; a bright, multiple color status bar; and internal LED light. Both the Biomek i5 and i7 Workstations can support a wide range of research and drug discovery applications including cell-based assays, high-throughput screening, high-content screening, cell line development, proteomics, 3D cell models and compound handling. Likewise, both systems can support genomics applications that range from NGS sample preparation, nucleic acid sample preparation and qPCR/PCR set-up, to microarray sample preparation for genotyping and gene expression analysis.

According to Robert Lund, senior manager, Product Management, at Beckman Coulter Life Sciences, the Biomek i5 workstation will cost between $75,000 and $100,000, and the larger Biomek i7 workstation will cost up to $175,000, depending on how each workstation is configured. Orders were accepted beginning the week of February 13, with first shipments starting in early April.

TTP Labtech debuted its Dragonfly Discovery instrument for automated low-volume liquid handling. The new platform enables rapid and reliable low volume (200 nL and upwards) dispensing using positive displacement. Positive displacement offers highly accurate dispensing of low liquid volumes. The instrument can dispense on a variety of different formats, up to 1,536 wells, making it ideal for assay development labs. The instrument is priced at $100,000, and full launch is anticipated for late 2017.

The AcouTrap 2.1 from AcouSort is a benchtop automated system for trapping, enrichment and dispensing of cells, extracellular vesicles and particles into well-plates. The AcouTrap 2.1 uses acoustofluidics, which uses standing acoustic waves to separate and trap particles based on their size, compressibility and density. Acoustic trapping enables handling of extremely small volumes with minimal damage to cells, delicate particles or vesicles. It is designed for basic research applications, including isolation and enrichment of rare cell populations. The use of acoustic trapping allows users to avoid ultracentrifugation, leading to faster sample processing and higher recovery rates. Additionally, the AcouTrap 2.1 system offers automated sample processing, leading to increased throughput. The system is currently available in Europe for €50,000 ($55,556 = €0.90 = $1). International sales are expected to coincide with SLAS.


The BioSpa Live Cell Imaging system from BioTek Instruments was presented at SLAS 2017. The BioSpa integrates several pieces of BioTek’s technology into a complete solution for precise environmental control and monitoring of live-cell assays, coupled with live-cell imaging. The system can monitor and maintain cultures for up to two weeks, and it can send email and text notifications. Live-cell imaging capability is up to 60x magnification. System prices range from $80,000 to $120,000.

At SLAS, BioTek also exhibited its Lionheart platform, optimized for live-cell imaging. This sleek and compact system offers imaging using fluorescence, phase contrast, brightfield or color brightfield from 1.25x to 100x oil magnification. Fluorescent imaging is available in 4 different colors for up to 18 different fluorophores. The augmented microscopy platform simplifies the process from imaging to publishing, automating and streamlining the image processing and analysis capabilities. The Lionheart platform starts at $55,000.

Nanomedical Diagnostics’ Agile R100, is a lower-cost, compact, label-free biosensor assay based on Field Effect Biosensing (FEB), an all-electronic method for measuring biomolecular interactions. Current is measured across the surface of a FEB sensor on which capture molecules are immobilized. Any interaction or binding with the capture molecule on the surface causes a change in conductance that results in measurable changes in current. This design allows the Agile R100 to detect target small molecules that interact with the capture molecule, even in crude media, complex matrices and tissue lysates.

Users can directly pipette their samples onto the chip surface, with volumes as low as 10 µL. Unlike many competing label-free biosensor systems, the Agile R100 is graphene based and does not use an optical-based method of detection. The Agile R100 is intended for use in pharmaceutical applications, particularly in small molecule or protein lead discovery and biologics activity quality assurance. The Agile R100 has been available since September 2015 and costs $20,000. Multiplex chips for the system average $75 and single plex chips average $15.

Berkeley Lights (BKI) launched its first commercial platform, the Beacon, in December 2016. The Beacon platform is a closed nanofluidic environment with a structured-light optical engine that enables fully automated nanoscale cell assays. The backbone of the system is the BLI Opto-Fluidic Chip. Using semiconductor technology, an array of phototransitors is patterned onto a silicon substrate. Structures, called NanoPens, are built on the substrate for cells to be placed. When activated by structured light, a local electric field is created that can manipulate cells (or beads) in fluid. NanoPen structures allow for single-cell (clonal) isolation and expansion, as well as single cell/clonal-cell assays. The BLI Opto-Fluidic Chips comes in two sizes: one with 1,500 NanoPen chambers and the other with 3,000 NanoPen chambers. Each chamber can hold 1 nL of fluid.

Cells are manipulated on the chip using OptoSelect visible light technology. Cells or beads in liquid are repelled by a light-induced electric field (OptoElectroPositioning); the field can be turned off or on using a computer algorithm to allow for precise and parallel manipulation.  At the heart of the system is an epifluorescent microscope that captures bright field and fluorescence images of the cells in each NanoPen chamber. The system monitors each chamber so that each clone’s growth, phenotype and functionality can be visualized and measured on a daily or hourly basis.

Troy Lionberger, PhD, Technology Lead, Single Cell Applications, at BKI, explained that the Beacon platform can be used to accelerate the time that it takes to identify high producing clones in a cell line–development workflow, from 10–15 weeks down to 5–7 days. He also said that the Beacon confirms what many development scientists had suspected, that high producing cells are often the clones that grow somewhat slower. A wide variety of other cell assays can be performed, including surface markers, phenotypic assays, live/dead assays, reporter cell assays, etc.  The Beacon instrument can run four Opto-Fluidic chips simultaneously. Each crip, regardless of size, costs $1,500. The Beacon instrument platform costs $2 million.

Sample Preparation

Thermo Fisher Scientific presented the KingFisher Presto system, which uses magnetic particle–based technology for automated nucleic acid and protein purification. The instrument is designed to integrate with other parts of an automated workflow, including liquid handlers and robotic arms. The new system offers fast nucleic acid recovery, taking 45 minutes to 1 hour to purify DNA in a 96-well plate. The KingFisher Presto is compatible with Thermo Fisher’s MagMAX Cell-Free DNA isolation kids. Launched in September 2016, the system’s list price starts at $40,000.

Launched by Analytik Jena in Europe last year and now available in the US, SmartExtraction kits are designed for high-yield extraction of high–molecular weight DNA. Due to the integration of the extraction surface (Smart Modified Surface) within the pipette tip, DNA extraction is performed by pipetting up and down alone, eliminating the need for centrifugation, magnets, resuspension and plate manipulation. By reducing these steps, 8–96 samples can be run in 24 minutes. SmartExtraction kits are available for a variety of automated liquid handling systems with 1 mL pipetting heads, including the CyBio SELMA, CyBio FeliX and GeneTheatre from Analytik Jena, but are also compatible with systems from other manufacturers. Pricing varies depending on kit size and type, with four kit types currently available: smart Blood DNA Midi prep, smart DNA prep, smart Bacteria DNA prep and smart Yeast DNA prep.

Sample Management

Available in 2017, Hamilton Storage’s SAM HD is a small, automated sample management system intended for sample storage in biobanking, forensics, drug discovery and pharmaceutical applications. Several models of SAM HD will be available for storage at +4°C, −20°C, −40°C and −80°C, with capacity of up to 60,000 tubes in standard racks or 86,250 tubes using Hamilton Storage’s high-density SBS-compliant RackWare racks. The SAM HD includes a touchscreen PC with INSTINCT S software, allowing for programming directly at the storage unit, including chain-of-custody permissions. A high-quality camera inside of the unit with wide field of view simplifies sample picking. The SAM HD can be integrated with LIMS systems, allowing for management and tracking of samples throughout the lab.

Sample Handling

Thermo Fisher Scientific presented a new instrument for tube capping and de-capping, the Automated Decapper 550. This instrument offers capping and de-capping for medium- to high-throughput labs for up to three different tube types. An integrated barcode scanner is an optional add-on to the instrument. The Decapper 550 list price is $35,000 without a barcode scanner and $45,000 including a barcode scanner.

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