Exploring Liquid Handling Solutions for Laboratory Developed Tests

Denise Grovewood is the Diagnostics Project Manager at SPT Labtech. In this article, Denise provides her insights on the needs and challenges of LDT labs and discusses why SPT Labtech's all-in-one automated liquid handler offers the ideal solution. 

Exploring Liquid Handling Solutions for Laboratory Developed Tests

Image Credit: SPT Labtech

Over the last few years, Denise has focused on helping build and run the equipment department for mass COVID-19 testing in the UK.

The pandemic demonstrated the power of LDTs and the value they hold where commercial tests do not exist. There was great innovation in response to a time of need.

Denise explains, “Through this experience, and through designing and building other assays, I came to understand first-hand what was important for a lab when selecting equipment for an LDT”.

Since the priority is to be up and running smoothly and quickly while minimizing downtime, she chose robust, versatile, user-friendly, and consistent instrumentation.

How Important is Automated Liquid Handling Within an LDT Lab?

Automated liquid handling is essential for high throughput labs, as was emphasized by COVID-19 testing.

“When performing any sort of diagnostic testing, you really want to get everything right first time,” Denise explains, “and that is so much easier to achieve with an automated liquid handler.”

This gives the user confidence in the results' accuracy and reproducibility.

In addition to this, automation frees up valuable time for scientists to carry out complicated work.

What Does SPT Labtech Offer?

Labs face pressure to operate continuously at high throughput, and the downtime associated with waiting for a response is costly. Before Denise worked for SPT Labtech, she was one of their customers. She explains how SPT Labtech’s Engineers and Application Scientists went above and beyond for her on multiple occasions.

“I made some very odd requests in my time, and I always felt like I was heard,” Denise describes.

Now that she works for SPT Labtech, she sees the customer-centric ethos of the company, with a dedicated and talented team of application scientists ready to work with customers to optimize protocols for their specific applications.

Denise also describes how the dragonfly® discovery reagent dispenser was the easiest liquid handler in the lab to program, making the instrument easy to fit into workflows. This same technology is also in SPT Labtech’s firefly®.

firefly and Its Liquid Handling Capabilities Support LDT

firefly is a progression of SPT Labtech’s innovative positive displacement liquid handling technology that has been in development for more than two decades.

The instrument is equipped with the robust and reliable non-contact liquid dispensing of dragonfly discovery alongside other useful functionalities, making it an integral solution for genomics labs.

Denise explains, “This robustness and versatility is a testament to how firefly has been developed with an understanding of what LDT users want.”

firefly is highly flexible, and despite it being designed with NGS library preparation in mind, it can fit into many different workflows.

The instrument’s dispense head can be employed for six different reagents without manual intervention from the user being required. The reagent reservoirs have been created to reduce dead volumes, which reduces the waste of any precious reagents.

firefly is also equipped with a pipette head, which may be used for 96-well and 384-well formats for the same experiment without requiring physical changes.

Other firefly Features to Address the Needs of LDT Users

The small footprint of firefly is greatly beneficial because labs are often short on space, and LDT labs are no different.

A further benefit is the firefly software. The recent updates and new features have been designed with LDT in consideration. This includes:

  • User access control: Every person in the lab can have their own account and set privileges, leaving no ambiguity about who ran what protocol and when. This gives the lab manager access to accurate and current records, which is imperative when handling human samples.
  • Easy to create and edit protocols: firefly has been designed for use in any lab, with no coding experience necessary to write a protocol because of the visual and intuitive user interface.
  • Open access software: There are no restrictions regarding how many versions can be used or which type of computer is required to run the software. This enables a protocol to be written by a user at their desk and then transferred to the instrument when ready.

Denise describes, “I’ve spent so much time crowded around an instrument trying to perfect a protocol that would have been so much nicer to do at my desk with a cup of tea – so this is a great ease-of-life feature.”

As SPT Labtech continues to work with its users within the LDT space, the company will continue to listen to their needs and utilize their valued feedback to drive future development.

As compliance is essential when working with any form of diagnostics, firefly was developed with this in mind, with the above features to provide improved user access control, clear audit logs, and recover runs if any issues occur.

The Importance of Using firefly for LDTs

LDTs are becoming increasingly complex, resulting in the need to alleviate some of this complexity from scientists.

Denise explains how some firefly users have already witnessed its promise for LDT. She continues, “We have made a substantial effort to package everything up to make the implementation journey smoother for our new users.”

SPT Labtech wants its users to get up and running quickly. This is achievable because of the hard work of the company’s development teams.

The Future of LDTs

As the understanding of the genetic and molecular basis of cancer grows, personalized medicine will become more important to tailor cancer treatments to the needs of each patient. This will help to improve the likelihood of successful outcomes.

Denise believes that due to this, genomic sequencing will come as standard. As sequencing becomes more commonly used and subsequently less expensive, labs will rely on automation to keep up.

Denise states, “I really hope firefly will be the tool people choose to fulfill this need.”

About SPT Labtech

SPT Labtech designs and manufactures robust, reliable and easy-to-use solutions for life science. We enable life scientists through collaboration, deep application knowledge, and leading engineering to accelerate research and make a difference together. We offer a portfolio of products within sample management, liquid handling, and multiplexed detection that minimize assay volumes, reduce material handling costs and put the discovery tools back in the hands of the scientist.

At the Heart of What We Do

Many of our innovations have been born out of the desire to create solutions to existing customer problems; and it’s this ethos that drives SPT Labtech’s R&D efforts. Our strengths come from the trust our customers have with us to develop truly unique, automated technologies to meet their needs. We combine cutting edge science with first-rate engineering to put customers at the heart of everything we do.

A Problem-Solving State of Mind

The substantial breadth of expertise within our company enables us to be involved in the full life cycle of our products from the initial design concept, mechanical and software engineering and prototyping, to final manufacture and sale. These qualities allow us to offer the best possible technical and mechanical support to all the equipment that we supply, hence maintaining excellent client relationships.


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Last updated: Nov 7, 2023 at 10:51 AM

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