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Agilent Launches Fully Automated Lab-on-a-Chip System

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Agilent has launched a fully automated lab-on-a-chip system that enables researchers to conduct analysis of thousands of DNA and protein samples per day. The 5100 instrument is an advanced version of Agilent’s earlier-generation 2100 bioanalyzer, which was launched in 1999 and was primarily designed for R&D work.

The 2100 was “the first commercial system using microfluidics to do things that people would normally do with agarose lab gel on DNA or RNA applications or SDS-PAGE on proteins,” said Martin Greiner, the Waldbronn, Germany-based product manager for the automated lab-on-a-chip platform.

The system is being marketed as a potential replacement for gel electrophoresis-based instruments. “I think that we would first have to show those people we could deliver more and better results, and that the price is acceptable for that,” Greiner said.

The 5100 platform processes samples from standard 96- or 384-well plates, which pushes Agilent into a new niche in the market. “The samples need to be on this format if you want to be in that market,” Greiner explained. “The other thing customers asked for was throughputs of several hundred to several thousand samples a day, and that would definitely not work with the 2100” instrument.

“This system automatically grabs the samples from the well plate and loads the sample itself.” With the bioanalyzer, the operator has to load and pipette the 5 microliters of buffer and one microliter of sample into the chip, and the customer also has to prime the chip by pressing some gel into the channels to be ready for separation. With the 5100, the operator fills the instrument and then leaves it alone to process samples. “You can run close to 4,000 samples without having to touch the instrument,” Greiner said.

There is a pipetter inside the instrument along with a vacuum and pressure pump, which take out the old chemistry and wash the chip, and then refill it with new chemistry. By having chips that can be used several thousand times before needing to be replaced, “we’ve brought down the cost of analysis dramatically. It’s much cheaper than what we have on the bioanalyzer,” Greiner said.

The 5100 also utilizes an Oracle database, where all the parameters of the experiments are stored. “You can grab those data and customize them as you need it. That really has not been possible until now,” Greiner explained.

Agilent believes the new platform could benefit core facilities or other labs doing large microarray studies that have large cDNA libraries that have to be maintained. The firm also is targeting the gene sequencing and screening markets.

The 5100 was officially launched on Nov. 1 and the first order has been placed, according to Greiner. He said that the cost of the instrument for DNA experiments, which would come with an assay, related database, and accessories, would run roughly $130,000.

— EW

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