Editorial Article: The Revolutionary Technologies Advancing Life Science Research: Highlights from SLAS 2018

CRISPR on-a-chip, digital PCR, and acoustic liquid handling steal the show at SLAS 2018

23 Feb 2018

A record-breaking 6,600 attendees and more than 300 exhibitors, from over 40 countries worldwide, descended on San Diego, USA, for the annual SLAS (Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening) conference. Attendees were promised a showcase of the latest life science discovery and technology innovations, and it did not disappoint. From the new acoustic droplet ejection workflow by Labcyte, to advances in clonal cell isolation using fluidic wall technology, the SLAS exhibition hall boasted pioneering technological advancements alongside world-leading research presentations. Not to mention the excitement of the Scientists’ Choice Awards, BioTek’s breakthrough into the science fashion industry, or Tecan’s ‘rockstar’ approach to laboratory automation...

A record-breaking 6,600 SLAS attendees hit the exhibition hall to discover the latest technology innovations advancing life science

Three new products receive prestigious SLAS award

Each year, SLAS celebrates the exceptional quality of new products that are directly impacting and advancing life sciences with the SLAS New Product Award. To be eligible for the prize, products must have been launched within 90 days pre and post-conference. A 12-strong judging panel selected three winners from over 50 nominations.

  • Formulatrix was commended for  CONSTELLATION; a digital PCR system which encompasses plate-based sample partitioning (496 times), thermal cycling, and sample imaging with up to five channel filters all on one platform. This system enables high-throughput nucleic acid quantification that mimics qPCR workflows but with the superior precision of digital PCR.
  • iotaSciences made the top list with isocell, a fascinating microgrid technology that carves fluid walls from immiscible liquid layers for single-cell isolation and clonal expansion.
  • Labcyte impressed the panel with its Echo 655T Liquid Handler. Launched as a component of its new fully automated acoustic workflow this year at SLAS, it enables liquid transfer at the nanolitre scale, as well as full control of the dispensing pattern. The whole system boasts sound-driven sample management right from storage, through liquid transfer, to screening.

The sound of SLAS

As winners of the SelectScience® Drug Discovery & Development Reviewers' Choice Award for their Echo® 500 Series Liquid Handlers, our event team spoke to Labcyte to find out more about its brand new echo technology, resonating through the field of automated liquid handling. A successful collaboration with Brooks has resulted in the development of acoustically-compatible tubes that enter the Echo 655T handler for precise transfer to assay-ready plates. The FluidXTM AcoustiXTM sample tubes were designed to miniaturize compound storage, from the conventional 30µl to 2µl echo-dispensing.

The tube also features a unique barcoding system for automated sample retrieval. In collaboration with Titian, Labcyte has pioneered software that is compatible with FDA-regulated labs, enabling its acoustic liquid handlers to serve the needs of 21CFR11-regulated pharma companies and laboratories.

Top give-away: Biotek's cell imaging socks

The new Automated Capper by Scinomix was another innovative device launched at the exhibition, capable of capping 48 vials in just six minutes and intelligently resolving cap size or orientation discrepancies. BioTek’s new family of assay automation instruments also impressed SLAS attendees, featuring products such the BioSpa Live Cell Imaging System and Cytation 5 Cell Imaging Multi-Mode Reader. Cytation 5 integrates microplate detection and image capture for improved, high-throughput cellular analysis. Not only is BioTek celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but the team also took the exhibition hall by storm with arguably the best giveaway at SLAS: cell imaging socks.


Hugo Sinha, a graduate student of Concordia University, and the youngest speaker at SLAS, gave an inspiring talk on automated CRISPR gene editing using a novel microfluidic tool. Our understanding of and expertise in CRISPR technology are increasing exponentially, yet our ability to apply this technology for large-scale genome editing and analysis has so far been limited by inadequate automation tools. Sinha described the development of droplet-based CRISPR on-a-chip and how he is applying this pioneering technology to target sets of genes in lung cancer cell lines, identify the genetic drivers and edit out specific genome aberrations. This novel tool has the potential to accelerate the validation of CRISPR for entry into clinical scenarios — watch this space!

Innovative digital PCR platforms recognized

Digital PCR (dPCR) technology is coming of age. With new advances in technology, the superior preciseness and accuracy of dPCR, previously limited by high-cost, low throughput and complex work flows, has made it a more accessible tool for nucleic acid quantification. Paul Hung, of Combinati Inc, was recognised with the SLAS Innovation Award for his work in developing a novel digital PCR platform, the Microfluidic Siphoning Array, enabling qPCR reagents to be partitioned into ‘lollipop’ micro-chambers coated with a semi permeable film. Real-time imaging enables removal of background readings to increase data validity.

The award, announced at the closing ceremony, recognizes the ‘exceedingly innovative’ work behind podium presentations delivered at SLAS. Hung beat an exceptional compendium of finalists to the $10,000 prize, with the work of runners-up including high-throughput flow cytometry in personalized cancer treatment, electrophoretic cytometry for isolation of cytoskeletal complexes, and droplet microfluidics for single-cell DNA sequencing.

SelectScience celebrates 20 years of publishing

Champagne celebrations!

SelectScience hosted an evening of champagne celebrations on Monday, February 5, to announce the winners of the Drug Discovery & Development categories of the annual Scientists’ Choice Awards, and to mark SelectScience’s 20th anniversary as a trusted, independent publisher. Best new product of 2017 went to Thermo Fisher Scientific for the Q-Exactive HF-X Hybrid Quadrupole-Orbitrap Mass Spectrometer. All other winners and runners-up can be viewed here.

There were celebrations too for the latest 10 companies to receive a respected Seal of Quality from SelectScience, based on consistently positive customer reviews for their product.

Science by 2040

At SelectScience’s booth, we asked exhibitor attendees to predict the ‘future of science’, looking forward to the year 2040. From smart contact lenses, to artificial intelligence, to nano-scale liquid biopsy technologies, look for out these thought-provoking forecasts featuring in some futuristic content on our website soon! Visit our Future of Science special feature to find out what leading scientists worldwide have to say about the next 20 years of science and how it will affect our lives.

Overall, SLAS 2018 was a captivating blend of science and technology that we feel lucky to have experienced, bring on SLAS 2019!