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Molecular Devices Redesigns and Launches FLIPR Fluorescence Scanner for 1,536-Well Plates


Molecular Devices last week launched a new generation of its fluorometric imaging plate reader system for automated cell-based kinetic assays, known as FLIPR. The new version, FLIPR Tetra, reduces assay volume, increases throughput, and will soon expand the range of assays compared to its predecessor, FLIPR3, according to the company.

FLIPR “has been redesigned from the ground up,” said Stephen Oldfield, Molecular Devices’ vice president of worldwide marketing.

Oldfield said the most important improvement over FLIPR3, which was introduced three years ago, is likely the instrument’s ability to run automated fluorescence-based fast kinetic assays in 1,536-well plates instead of just 96-well or 384-well plates, thus reducing the cost for consumables. With the old instrument, this “was theoretically possible but practically difficult,” he said, whereas FLIPR Tetra is designed for this application.

The new instrument is unique in that it combines a pipetting system with an optical system for simultaneous readout. “Clearly there are other machines that can pipette 1,536 [well plates] … but they don’t do it on an optical bench so you can make simultaneous measurements,” Oldfield said.

Smaller assays require fewer cells and drug compounds, thus reducing cost. According to Oldfield, pharmaceutical customers said their consumable budgets will remain flat in coming years, “so the ability to miniaturize all the way to 1,536 will allow them to screen more while staying within a similar cost structure.”

The new pipetting system, which uses an elastomeric technology for contact-based liquid transfer, can dispense between 0.5 and 3 microliters of liquid. Typical assays on a 1,536-well plate have a volume of only three microliters, Oldfield said.

Furthermore, FLIPR Tetra, which uses banks of light emitting diodes instead of a laser, will soon have an expanded range of wavelengths compared to its predecessor, thus increasing the number of dyes its can use. These will include, for example, Invitrogen’s Voltage Sensor Probe dye for measuring membrane potentials, Oldfield said.

Additional wavelengths will be added before the end of the year, he said, and can be installed on FLIPR Tetra instruments shipped before then. They will enable researchers to reduce interference by taking measurements at wavelengths that are different from those of naturally fluorescent compounds. Furthermore, the new instrument can measure two wavelengths in one assay, a capability required for ratiometric measurements to determine absolute concentrations. “Before, it was not easy to do two,” he said.

In addition, the new instrument, contrary to FLIPR3, is small enough to fit through a doorway, needs no cooling water, and only requires standard power. “It looks like a refrigerator—you just wheel it into the lab,” said Oldfield. Users can also change the fluidics easily, switching from 384-well plates to 1,536-well plates, for example. All this, the company hopes, will make it more palatable for users at small pharmaceutical or biotech firms.

Molecular Devices did not provide a list price for the new instrument, but it hovers around that for a standard version of the previous model, depending on the configuration, Oldfield said. While a 96-well plate configuration for assay development will cost less than FLIPR3, the price for the fully automated industrial-level 1,536-well screening configuration will be “a bit more.”

Beta testers for FLIPR Tetra included Jenny Stables at GlaxoSmithKline in the UK and Michela Stucchi at Axxam in Milan, Italy, who both presented data obtained with the new system at Molecular Devices’ user meeting in Berkeley, Calif., last week. In addition, MD presented data from Roche Palo Alto, another beta tester, at the meeting. These companies’ data will soon be available on MD’s website, according to Oldfield.

Since the first FLIPR came out in 1997, Molecular Devices has installed more than 400 systems at sites of more than 150 customers, most of them pharmaceutical and biotech companies, according to Oldfield. However, a few academic centers have obtained an instrument through sponsorship from a pharma company: AstraZeneca, for example, sponsored a machine at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, which is being used to screen natural products, especially those derived from the rainforest, he said.

According to Oldfield, FLIPR’s main competitors are the FDSS 6000 from Hamamatsu, and PerkinElmer’s ImageTrak system. The FDSS 6000 fluorescence drug screening system is “an imaging-based plate reader for cellular assays, assay development, and high-throughput screening,” according to Hamamatsu’s website. Features include an internal robot, injectors for 96- or 384-well plates, red or UV dyes that are excited by a Xe lamp, a non-confocal system, multi-dispensers, a two-CCD camera design, kinetic readout, and a cell reservoir, according to the product literature.

(For further information on PerkinElmer’s ImageTrak, see Inside Bioassays, 5/18/04.)

Oldfield claimed, however, that FLIPR dominates the market in such a way that the calcium, membrane potential, and other assays users typically run on the instrument have become known as “FLIPR assays.”

The company has had several orders for the new instrument already and will ship the first machines before the end of the month, Oldfield said.

— JK


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