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New Innovative Approaches to Lab Automation

SLAS 2024 recognizes innovative new companies and their products aimed at improving data production and analysis

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Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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The Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) conference highlights the cutting-edge of technology aimed at automating and accelerating research. The recent 2024 SLAS conference in Boston, MA showed the lab world many ways these innovations can improve the productivity, creativity, and fun of lab science.

There are many great aspects to a SLAS conference, including technical presentations, networking, and the large exhibit hall. My favorite part of this year’s conference was the Innovation AveNEW, which recognized 16 startup companies that are delivering interesting approaches to solve problems that many labs experience. The innovations covered many different aspects of lab automation, but can be summarized as software or tools.

Innovative automation software tools

New software, especially those incorporating AI and ML, can make huge productivity improvements in the lab. These companies are offering a variety of creative approaches to let computers do more of the work of lab research.

Orchestra

Orchestra recognizes that software has not kept up with the transformation of lab research in biotechnology, so they have created a research and development (R&D) management software application. Their software will enable R&D managers to make better decisions regarding project alignment, operational efficiency, and business risk. “R&D organizations, once they exit the discovery phase, are highly program- and process-driven,” says Ashoka Rajendra, founder and CEO of Orchestra. “Orchestra brings transparency to the R&D chores, then brings the plan to life.” 

Reach Industries

Reach Industries has created LumiTM, a lab intelligence platform that uses computer vision to capture, collate, and analyze lab activities. The software automatically translates lab activities into data ready for analysis. The key, according to Silas Adekunle, founder and CEO is, “Data integrity—save people time, so they can concentrate on the science.”

RxPlora

RxPlora is a drug discovery management software. The goal is to save scientists a significant amount of their time and effort by optimizing discovery pathways. The software leverages AI to make better data-driven decisions to streamline leads, which allows labs to focus on the most promising options. This software has been designed to optimize research for academic labs, small- to medium-sized biotech firms, and collaborative drug discovery teams.

Spring Science

Spring Science has developed AI-powered software to enable scientists to handle, process, and analyze complex image data quickly and thoroughly. This tool will help scientists keep up with the data size and complexity of modern research. The company is helping labs benefit from what they learned while analyzing high-resolution images in therapeutics. According to Tom Sullivan, chief business officer, “This software allows researchers to build their own AI-powered model on their own data.” 

TK Analytics

TK Analytics brings significant microscopy image analysis expertise to their software package. Their goal is to enable improved management of image data flow, image analysis, and image organization. Using advanced AI analysis algorithms, the software enables faster and better analysis of complex, data rich images. “Eighty percent of the people we work with come back with more questions. We help them make the right decisions based on the data,” says Tila Kranjc,  founder of TK Analytics.

Vial/Battery Bio

Vial/Battery Bio has developed an AI-powered discovery system using trained protein language models. These models enable faster and more specific drug development and disease understanding. One of their goals is to enable faster and less expensive clinical trials.

Expert Intelligence

Expert Intelligence has created an AI automation lab assistant that enables rapid data analysis and interpretation. This program is designed for working scientists and requires minimal input and no AI expertise. It can automate every step of current manual analysis and quality control activities. “This technology can create models with less than 30 samples,” says Doreen Chrishanthy, co-founder. “It can handle any kind of data and is vendor and instrument agnostic.”

Incubate

Incubate provides AI technology for early drug discovery. It is capable of in silico exploration of important biological pathways and mechanisms. It takes advantage of a casual inference AI approach that is well suited for complex mechanisms. “We need to find the right way to use the data,” explains Raminderpal Singh,co-founder and CEO,

Creative tools and equipment

New tools can make lab activities simpler, more specific, faster, and more productive. These companies have created innovative new tools and equipment that many labs will be interested in using.

Depixus

Depixus has developed a new analysis instrument using magnetic force spectroscopy to probe complex biomolecular interactions. The instrument measures changes in properties of 3D molecular structures in real time. It has three key measurement modes—binding strength, binding structure, and binding location—which help explore protein, RNA, DNA, and nucleic acid interactions. “MAGNA overcomes the limitations of conventional biophysical methods such as atomic force microscopy and optical tweezers to deliver direct, real-time measurement of dynamic interactions and conformational changes across thousands of individual molecules. It’s essentially a function assay,” according to Steve Klose, chief commercial officer. “MAGNA delivers unique real-time insights into the dynamics of biomolecular interactions at single molecule resolution.”

Depixus won the 2024 SLAS Ignite Award as the most deserving start-up or emerging company based on lab automation innovation. This is an important award that recognizes the presence and potential of the company and the key product(s). “This recognition is a great way to celebrate the  company we are building, our innovative technology, and its potential to impact the understanding and treatment of diseases where new treatments are urgently needed,” says Depixus CEO Gordon Hamilton.

VivoSphere

VivoSphereTM provides 3D cell culture models that will help accelerate in vitro drug discovery. The key is the use of novel 3D cell cultures. According to co-founder Yuan Tian, “The cells behave similarly to what happens inside the human body.” In addition, “The cells provide scalable, consistent production of human mimicry.” The 3D models provide high uniformity, a tunable microenvironment, support a wide range of cell types, and are ready for high-throughput screening.

SPOC Proteomics

SPOC Proteomics developed an approach to produce high density protein arrays to be built on a biosensor chip surface. The chips are then analyzed with surface plasmon resonance (SPR) to measure kinetics. This highly multiplexed proteomic biosensor enables simultaneous data from thousands of proteins. What’s different about this approach is that it “produces proteins directly from plasma DNA,” according to Lydia Gushgari, chief of staff.

Microsensor Labs

Microsensor Labs developed new technologies with sensors and automation. They “make the workflow easier, costs lower, performance better by making the instruments smaller,” according to Paul Liu, president. Currently they offer two different technologies. Sanibit improves hand hygiene, reducing infection complications for patients, and Magicyte rapidly detects and isolates single cells from heterogenous samples. Isolated single cells are important as diagnostic or prognostic markers.

KeyDev

KeyDev’s products are intended to drive novel research outcomes through accelerating separations using electrophoresis. Their technology will drive lower costs, faster analyses, smaller footprint, less reagents, and greater flexibility. The products comprise an integrated system with run times of five minutes or less and real-time band visualization. The technology is driven by miniaturized separations driving fast analysis, high resolution, and improved sensitivity.

Liquimetrix

Liquimetrix has developed automated technology that delivers high accuracy volume measurement for microwell plates. By delivering sub-microliter precision, it is designed to provide greater reliability to high-throughput experiments. It uses an optical measurement system that is contact-free and dye-free and can analyze a plate in less than a minute. This capability improves accuracy, reproducibility, reduces errors, and facilitates faster drug discovery.

ImageCyte

ImageCyte has delivered glass-bottom nanowell imaging plates to biomedical research, drug discovery, and clinical diagnostic labs. These plates are intended for live-cell image cytometry. The cells are independent and free from interference from neighboring wells. The nanowells have non-adherent sidewalls and a coverslip-thin glass bottom. According to Kerryn Matthews, applications specialist, “We use a patented polymer for the nanowells. The cells can’t get out of a well.”

HookeBio

“HookeBio’s Mera system is an innovative microfluidic system that allows rapid screening of 3D cell line systems to mimic the human body,” says Chiara DeBenedictis, a senior scientist. Specific types of cells can be grown into 3D microtissues, cultured, drugged, and analyzed using fluorescent microscopy. The microfluidic system allows recirculation that mimics the fluidic systems in the human body. The plate is engineered to maintain and treat up to 800 microtissues at the same time. The integrated analysis allows for live microtissue assessment in real time. The use of this system enables faster and more specific drug discovery and may reduce the amount of animal testing required to determine the best drug candidates.

These new companies have developed some fascinating new technology to improve data production and analysis. Hopefully these innovations will enable faster, lower cost, more powerful drugs to be developed to treat a variety of diseases.