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Zymark, J&J Co-Develop Automated Microarray That Pushes 200 Slides Per Day

BOSTON, Oct. 22 - Johnson & Johnson and Zymark have built an automated cDNA microarray platform that can process more than 200 slides per day, a J&J senior scientist said at a lab-automation meeting here yesterday.


The rapid growth in DNA microarray use, from target identification and validation through tox studies and clinical trials, has increased the need among some big pharma companies to come up with faster array-processing technology. J&J, which fits into this big-pharma category, tapped Zymark late last year to help it automate "all processes" of its array R&D, from chip production to image analysis.


"Numerous, semi-automated hybridization systems have been brought forth to address these issues, usually capable of handling four to 12 slides per module," said Andrew Carmen, genomics operations manager and senior drug-discovery scientist at J&J. "We wanted a single unit that can handle 200 slides per day, but there's nothing currently out there that can handle this. I think this is a big deal."


Speaking at the 20th annual International Symposium on Laboratory Automation and Robots here yesterday, Carmen said "all aspects" of the new system "are automated from probe addition via a 96-well microtiter plate through hybridization and washing." In addition, the tool, which Carmen reckons Zymark may soon commercialize, uses a flat lens/slide carrier system, which "tightly controls" gap height over the entire surface. (After his talk, Carmen stressed that the system can also be formatted to use non-glass slides.)


Another J&J requirement was for its cDNA chips to have a very low sample requirement. "I think we achieved this," Carmen said. "Ours uses as little as 45 microliters of sample on a slide, which covers the whole array."


J&J also demanded speed. "You can't have researchers waiting," he said. "We wanted to take a sample and get the data back to them in 10 days." Carmen also said J&J hopes that by the end of next year it will be able to crank out 10,000 chips every three months. The company can currently push 8,000 chips per quarter, he said.


Carmen stressed that the system, which appears to be as big as two large refrigerators side by side, can be "easily" adapted to handle protein- and oligo-based arrays. "Certainly we have interest in these two applications," he said. He wouldn't say whether J&J has been working on these applications with Zymark, too. A Zymark official, through a spokeswoman, also declined to offer details.

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