Empowering Biologists Through Laboratory Automation Without the Need to Code: Synthace at SLAS 2020

On January 25-29, the Synthace team attended the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) 2020 conference, which was held in the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, USA.

With nearly 6,000 attendees, SLAS is considered one of the most influential events within the world of R&D laboratory devices and a great opportunity for automation scientists to share the latest advances in the field.

We presented our software platform Antha which facilitates the easy and flexible adoption of automation in the lab and also enables data integration from multiple devices, both of which have been major challenges for biologists up to now.

Sharing Synthace’s progress in laboratory automation, enabled by Antha

We were particularly excited for this year’s event as Synthace had been nominated for the SLAS Ignite Award. All nominees were located within the Innovation AveNEW, an open area with welcoming kiosks that encouraged discussion and scientific discourse around innovations in the field of lab automation.

 This open space layout was a great change of pace from the generic “booth table” layout characteristic of most conferences. Standing at a kiosk removed the physical barrier to interaction with attendees, making it easier to engage with the people around us. A few nearby tables then allowed our booth staff to continue conversations with attendees who wanted to dive deeper into the specifics of our easy-to-use platform Antha and get a demonstration.

Members of Synthace’s commercial, engineering, and bioinformatics teams next to Synthace’s kiosk at SLAS 2020, waiting to talk automation.

Sophisticated space-fill DoE’s executed in record time

We also presented four different scientific posters centred around Design of Experiments (DoE) and execution of automated liquid handling protocols.

One of the posters, presented by Shama Chilakwad, an EngD student at University College London with industry partners at Synthace, sparked a lot of interest among attendees.

The poster detailed Shama’s work on rapid and automated execution of a high-dimensional space-filling DoE model using the SPT Labtech drangonfly discovery® liquid dispenser. Antha was used together with SPT Labtech’s dragonfly discovery robot to perform a 3,456-run DoE in just eight hours!

Synthace’s team member and EngD student at University College London, Shama, presenting her poster on the rapid and automated execution of Design of Experiments (DoE) model using liquid handling.

Furthermore, we brought along our case studies done in conjunction with our clients and industry partners as well as the application notes prepared by our in-house lab testing of Antha. All of them were freely available to the SLAS 2020 attendees.

The case study elaborating the aforementioned poster on rapid and automated execution of high-dimensional space-filling DoE model, prepared together with SPT Labtech, was a huge hit and we ran out of copies!

Read more: access all our case studies here

Antha makes lab automation accessible to all

Dr. Arne Vandenbroucke, Senior Automation Engineer, set the wheels in motion for our success at SLAS 2020 by giving a talk at the Ignite Award session on Synthace’s aspirations to help scientists achieve the “lab of the future” and how Antha is driving this vision by removing the barriers to automation.

Arne explained that Antha offers high-level abstraction and flexibility to its users, removing the need for biologists to know how to code to programme liquid handling robots.

With the help of Antha, scientists can iterate and execute sophisticated automation protocols on various liquid handling robots, such as those made by Tecan and Hamilton, while retaining their complexity and fidelity. Antha is device-agnostic, meaning it allows the seamless transfer of automation protocols between different manufacturers’ liquid handling robots. It also enables its users to connect their experiments with linked data streams from other analytical devices found in the laboratory, facilitating data integration. Importantly, Antha is easy to use and does not require any prior programming skills, unlike many other device-specific software tools.

Sophisticated Design of Experiments Made Easy

Arne’s talk, together with Shama’s poster on DoE and the associated case study, showcased our expertise in Design of Experiments (DoE), and this served to be a popular topic of conversation with conference attendees both at the booth and at the heavily-attended after parties.

DoE’s are a statistical method to explore the impact of multiple factors on the experimental outcome of a workflow or protocol. By exploring more factors simultaneously, scientists can optimise their processes faster, making their protocols more robust and efficient.

The researchers who came to chat with us identified two main problems they were experiencing with DoEs: the struggle to execute them across different liquid handlers and iterate them in a timely manner.

Therefore, many were particularly curious as to how Synthace and Antha would enable them to iterate and execute sophisticated DoE liquid handling protocols in a device-agnostic fashion, easing the burden of their current automation challenges. This was a great opportunity for our booth staff to explain more about Antha’s features and show a demonstration of Antha at work.

Watch: Webinar with Oxford Biomedica who discuss optimisation of ATMP development with Antha

Computer-aided biology and computer-aided chemistry could one day overlap

Among the many impressive talks that SLAS 2020 had to offer, the Synthace team were particularly excited to hear Leroy Cronin of the Cronin Group deliver his keynote speech at the end of the conference. Cronin and his team have developed the concept of “Chemputing”, which enables the universal digitisation of chemistry. In his very engaging and fascinating lecture, Cronin explained the need for abstraction in the field of chemistry and how his vision of the “Chemputer” would allow a researcher to translate a chemical formula into an operable line of code which would then be sent to a machine apparatus that would construct the chemical compound.

Not only was Cronin’s vision and its applications incredibly exciting, but the way he and his team were approaching their problem was very reflective of Synthace’s approach. Just as Cronin and his team are working to enable the universal digitisation of chemistry, Synthace is working towards the complete digitisation and abstraction of biology.

It was encouraging to see the same type of solution being applied to a different problem within the life sciences industry. To think of a point in time where these two technologies may eventually converge is a very exciting way to end the conference.

Final thoughts on SLAS 2020

Besides facilitating the exchange of cutting-edge scientific ideas on laboratory automation, SLAS 2020 also created an opportunity for the attendees to unwind and meet each other in a less formal setting by offering several laid-back evening gatherings. For example, our partners SPT Labtech hosted a networking session at a local bar in the famous Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego, while Tecan organised a music event with the unforgettable performance from their C-suite band, “The Dilutors”. And, after the conference had been successfully concluded, the Synthace team spent some time riding the electric scooters of San Diego and getting that final dose of sunshine before coming back to our Boston and London offices.

Overall, we are very pleased with how SLAS 2020 turned out: we feel fortunate to have generated a lot of interest from the attendees and believe that we have successfully established ourselves amongst other players in the industry. We will definitely be looking to attend SLAS 2021 next year so we can continue to build strong and exciting networks for the scientific community that we share.

If you are curious to see Antha at work, book a demo at: info@synthace.com

To keep up to date with the events we are attending, please visit: https://synthace.com/conferences-were-attending

Read more about our collaborations with other companies: https://synthace.com/case-studies