Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) make up a crucial workhorse of molecular biology, as well as a growing number of therapeutics. In a research lab, scientists use mAbs to label and track a wide range of targets. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies also turn mAbs into therapeutics, including treatments for cancer. When engineering a mAb for research or therapeutic applications, many steps require precise liquid handling, which can be accomplished accurately and repeatably with automated platforms.
Most labs engineer mAbs through hybridoma technology. This involves fusing an immune B cell that makes the desired mAb and a long-lasting myeloma cell. The B cell tends to be short-lived, which is the reason for fusing it with a myeloma cell.
“At each step in an antibody-engineering workflow, consistency and reproducibility are critical,” says Kevin Miller, senior market segment leader, government and regulated labs at Hamilton Company in Reno, Nevada. Any variability reduces confidence in the results produced with mAbs in research and could reduce the efficacy and safety of a mAb-based therapeutic.
Areas for automated liquid handling
In sorting blood cells for mAb production, screening for the most effective antibody, and a variety of analytics, automated liquid handling can be used. As Miller notes, these platforms “perform the same actions, in the same manner, every time they are used.”
That repetitive accuracy is crucial in mAb engineering, which is usually performed in microplates at microliter volumes. In addition to consistency, automated liquid handling is more convenient and it saves time, compared to a manual approach.
The antibody technologies facility at Monash University in Australia focuses on generating high-affinity monoclonal antibodies through advanced discovery techniques and antibody engineering. “The incorporation of automated liquid handling in antibody production has been pivotal to our success,” says manager Hayley Ramshaw.
At Monash, automating the liquid handling in the engineering of mAbs allowed the facility to manage an increased workload. Ramshaw says that this technology allows them to handle multiple fusions per week.
She and her colleagues can use automated liquid handling for many processes—the fusion itself, plating of the cells post fusion, analysis of all samples for antibody presence, and cell-culture techniques, including expansion of cultures and cryopreservation of cell lines.
Easing the transition
Automating a portion of the engineering process takes less capital investment than automating an entire workflow. For example, a lab could start with automating the liquid handling in next-generation sequencing used in mAb engineering.
To automate a complete engineering process, working with an expert eases the transition. A single vendor might suggest a system built with devices from more than one source.
In both basic and medical research, automated liquid handling provides many benefits. The improved accuracy alone is worth the transition. Automation also speeds up a process and allows higher throughput. In combination, automated liquid handling can create higher volumes of consistent mAbs, which benefits scientists and patients.