Research technician, Yvette Hoade, explains how electronic pipettes and pipetting robots help speed up her workflow when investigating mutations associated with different blood diseases that can lead to leukaemia.
From blood to genotype
Our research group is focused on uncovering the risk factors and mechanisms that give rise to bone marrow failure and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Both are age-related disorders that greatly increase the risk of developing leukaemia. The lab has recently started a DNA extraction project and we use adjustable tip spacing electronic pipettes to help streamline the process of pipetting between different labware types.
The ability to change tip spacing at the push of a button is ideal for this workflow, as samples need to be transferred from multiple tubes into a single plate.
The aim of this new project is to be able to go from blood to genotype for a large batch of samples as quickly and efficiently as possible, so we can obtain as much as data as we can.
We already had an 8-channel VOYAGER adjustable tip spacing pipette (INTEGRA Biosciences), which we use for loading gels, but decided to buy a larger volume 6-channel version to help with this project. This pipette is fantastic for speeding up the sample extraction process, transferring 200 µl of blood from collection tubes into a 96-well format accurately and efficiently. We then continue to use both pipettes for the rest of the DNA isolation protocol. Having both the high and low volume pipettes means that any reformatting we need to do is a breeze – we’ve got all volumes covered.
Automate your electronic pipette
The systems so impressed the team that, when it came to expand their pipetting capabilities, they decided to look at a pipetting robot from the same supplier.
We arranged a couple of demos and quickly realised how beneficial the automation offered by the pipetting robot would be to the group. It’s such a versatile platform and could be used for so many of our applications.
Our adjustable tip spacing pipettes can be mounted onto the robotic system, which then automatically carries out our pipetting tasks according to our pre-programmed settings. This option is so much more efficient than manually pipetting a large batch of samples. The interface of the pipetting automation software is clear and intuitive – anyone who wants to use the system can easily set up their own protocol. You can still remove the pipette to use separately if you want to, so we can manually prepare samples if needed.
It is amazing to have that flexibility in such a busy lab. We originally bought the pipetting robot for the DNA extraction project but, now that we have it in our lab, we find that we're using it for everything. It was certainly worth the investment.
Higher throughput and increased accuracy
Efficiency and reliability are compulsory for our busy lab, and the electronic pipettes and pipetting robot fit seamlessly into the workflow.
Once we’ve extracted the DNA, we prepare libraries using PCR for next generation sequencing to screen for mutations that can predispose individuals to MDS or leukaemia. The pipetting robot is great for handling really small volumes, which means that we can now use 384-well plates and process more samples. We just didn’t have the necessary accuracy to be able to do this before, but now we have the confidence that our results are precise and reproducible. It speeds up the whole process, making it far less tedious and reducing the chances of people making mistakes. We have about 6,000 samples to sequence for this project, which is why automation was so important to us, and thankfully the pipetting robot has improved our throughput significantly. We’ve also recently started to consider using it to automate magnetic bead DNA clean-up before pooling and sequencing, which would be a real asset for this challenging part of the workflow.
The perfect lab partner
The level of automation provided by the pipetting robot has been hugely beneficial to our entire group, and it is used for many applications within our workflow. Automation gives us the confidence that the level of accuracy is high, cutting out the tedious and repetitive aspects of lab work that are inevitable when we’re handling such large sample numbers. A pipetting robot is the ideal lab partner, and there’s often a queue to use it – it’s a solid member of the team now.
Author info: Yvette Hoade is a research technician at the Payne Laboratory in the Department of Haematology at University College London