The NFI selected Hamilton Robotics through a tender process designed to identify an automation partner. “We were impressed with the degree of innovation Hamilton offered,” said Bas de Jong, MSc, project manager at the department of human biological traces. “They have a number of unique solutions for this application including AutoLys Tubes and FlipTubes®.” Already a leader in lab automation, Hamilton had identified sample lysis as a major bottleneck in DNA forensics analysis and had invested in the development of a totally new solution. Hamilton plans to commercialize the system – the MICROLAB® AutoLys STAR – later this year.
In addition to the proprietary AutoLys Tube, Hamilton has developed a special channel, compatible with all MICROLAB STAR line instruments, that handles the tubes through all the steps of the sample lysis process: capping/decapping, holding lids while the pipetting channels add lysis buffer to the samples, transferring tubes to incubation, lifting and locking an inner tube in spin position, extracting the tube after centrifugation and transferring the clear lysate into a fresh tube. Tubes are held in a 24-position rack during the entire process. Four racks of 24 tubes (96 samples) can be processed at one time.
The NFI, a government-owned forensic lab, performs the vast majority of forensic DNA casework in the Netherlands, including providing second opinions and analyses for cold cases. NFI analyzes reference and casework samples covering high-volume and severe crime cases. “We had been doing the lysis step on the severe crime samples by hand to meet quality and yield demands,” explains de Jong. “Initial validation work with the Hamilton AutoLys STAR is producing results and quality that are comparable to our manual processes. In addition to reducing error possibilities and contamination risk, the automated system can run overnight, improving overall lab throughput.”
The NFI will also be working with Hamilton to validate an automated platform for DNA purification after lysis using magnetic beads. “The NFI and their validation experts are critical partners as we develop this system,” explains Laurent Baron, forensics market segment manager for Hamilton Robotics in Bonaduz, Switzerland. “Their input and the data they are generating will enable us to successfully commercialize this solution to address the industry-wide need.”
There is a global trend, led by Northern Europe and The Netherlands, to centralize forensic sample processing and storage. NFI has just purchased a new -80°C BiOS third-generation biobanking system for long-term storage of DNA extracts from crime scenes and trace samples. Netherlands government regulations require that samples from severe crimes be stored for as long as 80 years. In addition to the BiOS, NFI has already received and installed a Hamilton +4°C Sample Access Manager (SAM) system connected with a -80°C SAM system by a Rack Runner robot.