Problem: Over the past 40 years, laboratory science has willingly embraced a high level of automation that over time has become increasing sophisticated. Bar-coded patient samples fly through a complex and variable analysis process in clinical chemistry, hematology, and most other lab disciplines. Results are reported as soon as they become available via LIMS that send the information to integrated patient information management systems.
The sole exception was microbiology — laboratory scientists and assistants continued to laboriously inoculate and streak plates with streak patterns specific to what they were trying to culture in a variety of media. This labor-intensive, pre-analytical phase preceded incubation and interpretation and, in spite of the mundane nature of the task, the variability involved seemed to mitigate for human intervention
Solution: In 1998, Canada’s leading laboratory sciences company approached Dynacon to codevelop with them a system that would automate a substantial portion of the pre-analytical work common in the microbiology laboratory. Dynacon took on the challenge and set out to design a machine that would automate this complex and infinitely variable process. The approach taken was to design a versatile, but not universal, machine that would automate the highest volume studies that made up the bulk of the work in microbiology. The first InocuLAB (Figure 1) was completed in March 2000 and passed its first customer acceptance test in June 2001.
InocuLAB receives the barcoded samples presented to it, reads the barcode, prints the barcode on the plate(s) to be inoculated and streaked, uncaps the donor container, samples the liquid, recaps the donor container, inoculates and streaks the plate, and presents the streaked plates in an output stack ready for the incubator. Sophisticated software virtually eliminates errors and overall quality is improved in that every streak is exactly the same and reproducible. At 60–80 plates per hour, significant labor savings are captured and employee stress and injury are prevented.
Today Dynacon is approaching one hundred systems installed all over North America and Western Europe. Customers include large reference laboratories, hospitals, and teaching institutions, tissue banks, veterinary facilities, and regional laboratories. The reference site list contains some of the most prestigious teaching laboratories in the world and continues to grow each month. Geographic expansion has been limited by Dynacon itself to those areas where quality service will match the quality of the ISO 9001 built and CE-marked machine.
The future will bring on phased geographic expansion and some new automation products for the microbiology laboratory to complement the current LQ and LQ-H models.