Brian Sørensen is the CEO of Fidabio. Henrik Jensen is the CSO. Fidabio creates devices to analyze protein interactions for biologic drug development. They use one Opentrons OT-2 liquid handling robot and the Opentrons Python Protocol API with their own software to create a complex dilution workflow for sample preparation. Here’s how.
Opentrons: Please tell us a little about your background.
Brian Sørensen: We were at the University of Copenhagen until late last year.
Henrik Jensen: At the university, we used the Opentrons OT-2 robot to do serial dilution for sample preparation workflows, where generating solutions of binding partners required a lot of pipetting work. Once I used it, I realized it could be used for better overall integration within the lab.
Opentrons: What kind of research do you do?
Brian Sørensen: Our inhouse pilots are typically small experiments, where manual pipetting is okay. Our customers, however, run larger experiments where it doesn’t make sense to have technicians pipette faster to complete them; a robot can pipette and the scientist can carry out analysis. As soon as the experiment involves a larger dilution series, or more samples need to be aliquoted, you should consider automation. One project exemplifying this is a client who analyzed thousands of patient samples from a nearby hospital.
Opentrons: Why did you choose the OT-2?
Brian Sørensen: We bought the liquid handling robot as a standalone, but it quickly became clear we could integrate it with our own software.
Henrik Jensen: The advantage of automation obviously comes down to processing a high number of samples that would otherwise be repetitive to do manually. Also, accuracy is important in wet lab work: if you can do the work in a standardized way, it will improve results. It’s especially important for relatively small sample sizes. Automation makes all of that much easier.
Brian Sørensen: Reproducibility is key, and when you increase the human factor in a lab, it doesn’t increase reproducibility.
Henrik Jensen: Third, there is knowledge and skills to the operator that will be smaller for the entire workflow if you can use the robots.
Brian Sørensen: If you are doing a few routine analyses, then you may be fine doing everything manually. But that may not be the best way to do the entire assay—or the best use of the technician.
Henrik Jensen: With a liquid handling robot, it is easier to document your research because you can share the pipetting scripts and researchers can reproduce the data. Automation provides a very detailed explanation of what you can—and did—do.
Brian Sørensen: If you want to transfer your assay from one lab to another, and it has manual steps in it—
Henrik Jensen: — it is much easier to automate. This factor is also part of our motivation to automate preparation and the entire workflow.
Brian Sørensen: When the integration of the OT-2 was initially made, it was primarily thought of as a nice niche application. But, we see more customers also being interested in getting an OT-2 as part of their Fidabio workflow. We can see in the software the possibility of seamless integration for more labs. That’s why Fidabio’s software and Opentrons can be linked together.
Opentrons: What was it like to get your OT-2 up and running?
Henrik Jensen: The experience was essentially just plugging it in. From a hardware point of view, it was quite easy. Of course there was a bit to learn with the protocols—but not necessarily difficult. Our software engineer Morten wrote scripts. They were quite straightforward to create.
Brian Sørensen: It is fair to say that the OT-2 slid seamlessly into our workflow. It eased the work of generating binding curves, which require that you make titrations of dilutions and requires a lot of pipetting. To leave that to a robot rather than take up a technician’s time fits in well with our system, as well as other automated wet lab systems. It is an end-to-end automated workflow.
Henrik Jensen: We hadn’t had experience working with this before. But, of course, we are instrument developers ourselves, so we already had a good understanding of the process.
Opentrons: Had you used any lab automation before your OT-2? What did you expect the process of lab automation to be like?
Brian Sørensen: When we developed our own platform, it was important to us that there was a high level of automation. In that sense, the OT-2 was a nice enhancement of one of our own key selling points. It ties in quite well with one of the key elements in our own platform.
Opentrons: What specifically do you use the OT-2 to do, and how does it fit into your workflows?
Brian Sørensen: For us, we are selling an instrument which has to be extremely precise. We know our technology has the capability of providing very accurate data, but it is still biology where even small variation can affect the results. For the applications we work with—drug discovery, for example—we must make sure we’re controlling as much of the experiment as possible. The ability to control the prep process makes for better results.
Henrik Jensen: Before we integrated, we had an assay development partner which allowed us to type information into the system and the system calculated what you needed to make solutions. You can, of course, do this manually. The next step for us is to make scripts for the OT-2 instead of doing it manually.
Opentrons: Are you planning any other automation?
Brian Sørensen: We’re always looking into further development. We’re still a young company. But we are moving fast and further integrations are likely.
Opentrons: Is there anything else you’d like to say about using the OT-2?
Henrik Jensen: The openness, and ability to integrate with multiple platforms, is a really important feature of your product.
Brian Sørensen: We’ve spoken to your product development team about further ways we can integrate to offer a seamless and smooth workflow to our customers and increase user effectiveness. It is also something highly in demand in the current market. The recurring trends we see in our customers—the increasing need for quantification and accuracy—and the more complex lab workflows become, the more requirements there are… and the greater the need to eliminate error sources. The drive for lab automation is not automation itself, but what it can provide: highest-quality data.
Henrik Jensen: Automation isn’t just about creating a product that’s cheaper and more accessible for any lab. You have to think into the methodology about how you can automate. You have to think in entire processes.
Brian Sørensen: Biotech has long struggled with this. Customers are looking for answers, not just data. They are looking for something that can help them decide. The faster they can come to a solution, the more efficient their development process is. This is an important break in that process.