Rapid rack readers help lab lower cost of COVID-19 PCR testing
5 Jan 2022
Ziath’s super-fast 2D barcode rack readers are assisting leading COVID-19 testing lab SummerBio LLC (Menlo Park, California, USA), to offer rapid, low-cost, high-volume testing solutions for educational organisations, employers and laboratories.
SummerBio was conceived during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the USA, to combat expense and slow turnaround times of existing PCR testing. The company was formed by a group of life science automation industry veterans with decades of experience of building and operating large-scale laboratory robotics. Its investment in automating the RT-PCR testing process has enabled it to become one of the top COVID-19 testing labs in California in less than a year.
Dave Scheinman, President of SummerBio, said: “In the early days of the pandemic everyone was scared – do I, have it? do you, have it? We felt that if we could get people the information to know what their COVID-19 infection status was quickly, they could make informed decisions.” Co-founder, Sasha Seletsky added: “We really wanted to enable high volume, low cost and fast turnaround COVID-19 testing to make it suitable for surveillance testing. To date, SummerBio has processed more than seven million tests during the pandemic including a peak of one million a day during August 2021. Through clever use of automation, we have driven down the cost per test to less than $10."
SummerBio’s robotic liquid handling cells use a bespoke 2ml cryotube, developed in Korea, housed in boxes of 100 which allow very high levels of automation to process the racks at speed. Key to the automation is four Ziath Cube 2D barcode rack readers which can image a full rack of 100 tubes and read out all the barcodes in a little over one second. This means that SummerBio can quickly and reliably track each box of COVID-19 patient sample tubes throughout the whole testing process.
For the RT-PCR step, licenced from Columbia University, the samples are robotically decanted into 96 position tube racks that are compatible with the 96-well PCR plates used in the final analysis. Here, a set of Ziath Mirage readers are used to control the flow of racks through the workstations. Any positive samples identified by PCR can then be withdrawn from the 96 well racks using a pair of Ziath Mohawk tube pickers to make tube selection quick and easy. By grouping the positive samples together into a daughter rack, a confirmatory PCR can be run if required. The Ziath Mirage can also be used to prepare the pick lists and confirm which tubes are in the re-test racks.