PerkinElmer and NextGen Sciences pulled away the curtains on their new ProteinBiochipWorkstation — yes, it’s one word — which they say is the first automated system for processing protein microarrays, at IBC’s second annual International Conference on Protein Microarrays this week in San Diego.
NextGen of Alconbury, Cambridgeshire, in the UK initially developed the system, but the company decided that commercializing the technology was outside of its business plan and capabilities. So the company decided to collaborate with PerkinElmer to optimize the device. Under the agreement, PerkinElmer is manufacturing the system and has the exclusive worldwide rights to distribute it.
This new release signals PerkinElmer’s definitive strategy to make itself the provider of choice in the protein array arena. With last fall’s acquisition of Packard, the company got its hands on the HydroGel chips, an increasingly popular slide substrate for protein arrays; as well as the company’s PiezoElectric non-contact BioChip arrayer tailored for protein chips; and Packard’s ArrayInformatics software, not to mention Packard’s ScanArray line of slide scanners. Together with PerkinElmer’s Tyramide Signal Amplification (TSA) reagents for amplification, which the company is now optimizing for protein chips, this lineup of products provides researchers with a soup-to-nuts system for protein arrays.
“The acquisition of Packard was an extremely good move on the part of PerkinElmer,” said Kevin Auton, CEO of NextGen. “It brings a huge amount of liquid handling expertise, and Packard had developed the array technology and hardware. PerkinElmer had the instrument manufacturing expertise and the chemistry. Basically the ProteinBiochipWorkstation is the last piece.”
This doesn’t mean forcing customers to buy only PerkinElmer products. The workstation is designed to be “a totally open system,” working with any microscope slide-sized arrays, and hence any scanners, said Ian Taylor, director of proteomics at PerkinElmer. “People have already invested money in arrayers. We wanted this to be used with current investments in array technology.”
The system, however, will be optimized to work with PerkinElmer products, including ArrayInformatics.
The system’s hood pops up and tilts back like a hardtop on an old Ford convertible, revealing a bank fitted to hold and refrigerate liter-sized bottles outfitted with tubes leading to different input channels. Below this bank is a drawer filled with 12 metal cartridges that look like cell phone cases. Each cartridge opens up for insertion of a slide printed with proteins, along with the “stack,” a microfluidics and sample injection device that fits over it. On the end next to the slide drawers, an optional small pull-out chamber holds and refrigerates tubes with semiprecious reagents, among them the TSA amplification system.
The 12 slide chambers are designed to automatically inject sample and control temperature and reaction conditions. They cannot be individually controlled, as this would have occupied too much “real estate” on the machine, Auton said.
“The key thing is trying to make it possible for anyone to make protein arrays and get good data, even the most lonely technician,” said Auton, whose team at NextGen has been using the system for a while now on protein profiling studies of breast cancer biomarkers. “You don’t have to be an expert in protein arrays to get good results.”
The workstation can run arrays in one to two hours, completing four runs in a day, according to PerkinElmer. The total price is about $70,000 for the first unit, with additional groups of 12 slide processors going for $30,000 each.
The company plans to release the first production-quality machines in September, and is busy now hand-picking a list of beta testers. “The demand is quite high already,” said Taylor.