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Affymetrix Hopes to Raise Hardware Profile With Upcoming High-Throughput Array Station


BOSTON — 2005 has been a year of diverse product launches for Affymetrix. The company has pledged the release of eight organism-specific whole-genome arrays by year's end, and the first batch of its whole-genome human exon arrays is expected to launch next month (see BAN 9/7/2005).

Affy is now gearing up to launch its Array Station, a high-throughput instrument that performs the same functions as the company's GeneChip Scanner 3000, but rather than running experiments and reading results from GeneChip cartridges, it uses Affy's 96-array plate format. The availability of the new tool was announced at IBC's Chips to Hits conference held here last week.

Sejal Sheth, a senior business manager at the company, told conference attendees that Affymetrix would launch the Array Station in coming weeks and that the motivation to release the automated, high-throughput system was partly due to demand, and partly due to changing trends in array-based studies.

The motivation for developing the Array Station was related to "changes that have occurred over the last four years" in which array studies have become "much larger and more complex," Sheth said, adding that this complexity is "not just in terms of the number of samples people are running, but also in terms of the numerous, different ways that people are actually looking at the data."

"People really need the reassurance that, irrespective of where the samples are being run, they are being processed in the same way each time, and that it's not a factor in the overall data variability."

She also noted that "studies are now being launched across multiple sites, multiple institutions, and often involve multiple investigators" and that researchers are under greater pressure to produce "data as quickly as possible under very aggressive timelines and doing that under budgetary and reimbursement constraints."

Affymetrix is therefore targeting the platform as a means for increasing productivity and for standardizing the experimental process.

"People really need the reassurance that, irrespective of where the samples are being run, they are being processed in the same way each time, and that it's not a factor in the overall data variability," Sheth said.

She said that the Array Station is capable of handling either 24 or 96 reactions at a time, and that the higher-throughput experiments customers have been running will benefit from less variability in data.

Sheth said that Affy's status as a provider of both consumables and hardware will help it compete against existing high-throughput systems in the market.

"Instead of having one vendor for the instrumentation, and then working with Affy for the arrays and reagents, here you have one provider that will ensure that all of the components work together for the benefit of your project," she said.

96-Array Plate Format

According to Sheth, the Array Station's 96-array plate format "offers the same microarray technology" as the GeneChip Scanner 3000, but "it enables you to hybridize 96 distinct samples at one time," Sheth said. She added that a high-throughput scanner has been optimized for the plate format, as have the company's reagents.

Affy did not disclose pricing for the station.

Some components will not be available through Affy, however. Sheth said that labs would have to get their own spectrophotometers. "Most of our customers already have a spectrophotometer, so rather than increasing cost by including it, [we] let people use equipment that they already have," she said.

Customers will also have access to Array Station-ready GeneChip Operating Software, which has been modified to run on a server because of the large amount of data that the system will generate

The first application to run on the Array Station will be Affy's U133 gene-expression array, although Sheth said additional applications would be added with time.

"For example, with GC3000 we started with expression experiments, we then added genotyping and resequencing applications. [The plan is to] do basically the same thing here," she said.

Sheth said that the Array Station has been available to early-access customers for several months already, and suggestions from these customers have been used to optimize the system.

Representatives from Affymetrix declined to provide BioArray News with further details on these early-access customers for this article.

— Justin Petrone (jpe[email protected])

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