Swiss design and Arizona necessity converge
August 2011
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author


MÄNNEDORF, Switzerland—With its Freedom EVO 200 liquid handling platform as the foundation, Tecan Trading AG has collaborated with the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix, Ariz., and the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University to create a new automated sample preparation system for proteomic biomarker discovery and validation.  
TGen initiated the collaboration, says Dr. Konstantinos Petritis, head of the institute's Center for Proteomics, adding that "one of the missions of TGen's Center for Proteomics is to build an 'industry-scale' biomarker discovery and verification/validation pipeline. It became apparent very quickly that one of the bottlenecks is sample preparation, especially for labs involved with clinical proteomics. There was no commercial solution out there that could achieve the throughput required in a comprehensive and flexible way. TGen and ASU started working on the device specifications and then involved Tecan, who handled, among other functions, the integration of all the components."  
The fully automated system developed through the collaboration is said to be a key tool in the shared goal of TGen and ASU to establish an industrial-scale biomarker validation facility, in part because the platform can prepare nearly 1,000 samples in less than 24 hours. It does so in the SISCAPA (stable isotope standards with capture by anti-peptide antibody) workflow, and the turnaround time encompasses everything from receiving samples in cryovials to eluting selected peptides into 96-well plates ready for analysis by mass spectrometry.  
"During biomarker discovery, we work with 20 to 100 samples, but once we have identified potential biomarkers, verification and clinical validation must be performed, where the challenge is to process hundreds, perhaps thousands, of samples," notes Petritis, who along with Dr. Mark Holl and Dr. Deirdre Meldrum of the Biodesign Institute provided scientific leadership for the integrated system specification and multi-vendor process in the collaboration—marking the first time TGen and Tecan have worked together to build a custom platform. "One of Tecan's greatest strengths was undoubtedly the ease with which it seamlessly brought everything together. Sample preparation is a critical yet extremely long, multi-stage and labor-intensive process that must be performed reproducibly. The Tecan system is a comprehensive and flexible proteomic sample preparation platform that successfully integrates and controls many different modules from a range of vendors."   
Although the system was customized for TGen's needs, Petritis notes that Tecan could build the same system or one very much like it for any other organization or group that might be interested, and he counts laboratories that deal with high-throughput proteomics or need to automate sample preparation solutions as likely potential customers for such systems.  
"This functionality is especially needed for large-scale biomarker verification and validation studies," he says.  
Tecan touts itself as a leading global provider of laboratory instruments and solutions in biopharmaceuticals, clinical diagnostics and forensics and clinical diagnostics and specializes in the development, production and distribution of instruments and automated workflow solutions for laboratories in the life sciences sector. Founded in Switzerland in 1980, the company has manufacturing, research and development sites in both Europe and North America and maintains a sales and service network in 52 countries, boasting 2009 sales of $361.2 million.  
TGen dedicates its efforts "to conducting groundbreaking research with life-changing results" and focuses on such diseases as cancer, neurological disorders and diabetes in particular, "on the cutting edge of translational research where investigators are able to unravel the genetic components of common and complex diseases." For its part, the   Biodesign Institute addresses global challenges in healthcare, sustainability and security by developing solutions "inspired from natural systems and translating those solutions into commercially viable products and clinical practices."
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