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Considerations for Acquiring Custom Kits

A carefully chosen custom kit can serve your lab's needs

by
Andy Tay, PhD

Andy Tay, PhD is a freelance science writer based in Singapore. He can be reached at andy.csm2012@gmail.com.

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Researchers are working to solve diverse challenges, and while there are materials and tools that can meet the needs of most labs, some kits have to be specially designed to achieve research objectives. Here, we will discuss the considerations that go into buying custom kits.

Complex manufacturing

Manufacturing research kits, even the most general and common ones, is complex. For example, to produce antibodies, manufacturers need access to different animal models to generate primary antibodies and develop methods to conjugate fluorescent labels to secondary antibodies. The costs needed for such manufacturing can be prohibitive for an academic lab. Consider a lab working on non-standard animal models such as cavefishes and naked mole-rats. These researchers would have to produce their own antibodies, which is cost-prohibitive and time-consuming. Custom kits from manufacturers are helpful in such scenarios. Manufacturers have the infrastructure to efficiently produce custom kits at scale. Using custom kits also boosts research productivity as staff do not need to spend time refining the antibody production process, instead concentrating on the scientific questions they want to investigate.

Another advantage that comes with ordering custom kits is the manufacturing scale that suppliers can provide. For instance, users can generate viruses in labs and use them for genetic engineering. However, these projects may require a large quantity of viruses, and any manufacturing failure in the lab may substantially delay the progress. Reliable virus custom kit suppliers answer this need.

Quality control and reproducibility

It is important that research findings are accurate. Many biological reagents are sensitive to environmental fluctuations and can lose their functions when produced, transported, or stored improperly. Custom kit manufacturers may offer better quality control than the researchers making the materials themselves.

A good example of this is the design of nanoparticles to track specific ribonucleic acid (RNA) in the cell. This area is of great interest as researchers aim to understand how spatial distribution of RNA in a cell may affect processes like cell division. In this kit, the nanoparticle is designed such that it has an anti-sense RNA that binds to the target RNA and, upon binding, produces a fluorescent signal that can be captured using a microscope. As there are many types of RNA with different functions and researchers often study different RNA to fit a unique research question, custom kits are usually required. As some target RNA is of low abundance, having a custom kit with an RNA-binding nanoparticle, combined with high quality control, can improve research reproducibility.

Custom kit manufacturers may offer better quality control than the researchers making the materials themselves.

Flexibility

When it comes to manufacturing, suppliers often develop processes that can be applied to different custom kits. For instance, to generate a nanoparticle that binds to RNA, manufacturers may only need to change the sequence of the anti-sense RNA, enabling them  to use the same platform to produce many types of custom kits to detect different target RNAs. However, for academic labs without experience, it may take a long time to build the underlying production technology, and their method of producing nanoparticles may not apply to all target RNAs. 

Sample integrity

Custom kits are also prevalent in medical labs to acquire samples and maintain their integrity. As an example, a research study requires blood sample for five different tests which each require about 1.5 mL of blood. Commercially available blood collection test tubes come in 5 mL, which means that two such tubes need to be used during blood collection. Additionally, they have to be combined in the lab and further pipetted into five 1.5 mL vials for analysis.

In the above scenario, custom blood collection tubes with volumes of 1.5-2 mL would come in handy. Using customized tubes enables labs to make full use of samples without waste, reduce contamination that may adversely affect results, and improve productivity as less time is spent on separating the collected blood into smaller volumes. 

Costs

A major consideration when purchasing lab reagents is cost. There is a perception that custom kits are expensive. No doubt they are more costly upfront than general purpose kits, but this perception may not hold true when labs factor in the salary and time of research staff trying to refine lab-made reagents. Additionally, as publishers are requesting authors to provide information such as batch number of reagents, lab-made reagents may be subject to scrutiny to data on quality testing, which most labs are not familiar with. Finally, custom kits arrive ready to use, which ensures that the research can progress as planned. As such, labs must consider potential cost savings in the long run with custom kits.

To help labs afford custom kits, many manufacturers offer different payment models. For instance, labs can pay based on whether the custom kits work or not. This is called an outcome-based payment approach. Another way is to have a staggered payment: half when placing the order and half when the kits work. This can protect the interests of lab users and also motivate manufacturers to ensure that they are delivering a functional, high-quality kit.

Key takeaways

Custom kits can help labs improve productivity as researchers can focus on science while outsourcing material production to expert manufacturers. When purchasing custom kits, it is recommended for labs to be in continual communication with their suppliers to ensure the kit suits the research objective. Labs should also choose manufacturers that can provide them with proof of quality control and who are willing to negotiate payment models.