Cell-Based Assay Automation

What are cell-based assays? They are used to screen a wild variety of compounds, add functions to screening qualifications for compounds, and widen the range of compounds that can be targeted within an assay. However, performing cell-based assays often requires labor-intensive, highly complex protocols. 

These protocols must be executed efficiently—and accurately—on vast numbers of samples. Given the complexity of these procedures and the desired sample throughput, laboratory automation is necessary. Here are examples of systems HighRes has created for cell-based assays.  


This system is a BSL2 enclosed screening system, designed to handle a variety of cell-based assays for an MTS/HTS and Lead Optimization team. This NanoCell design densely packages all the equipment required to run a vast array of cell-based assays.  

The lab had limited floor space and a need for many assays to be run in a clean environment. The design introduced MicroDocks on the key flex points of the SteriStore incubator and reader position. This choice allows the system to morph functions by docking in different readers. Therefore, the range of assays that can be performed on the same system was increased.  

The customer also chose to implement smaller ambient storage and two dock systems in their lab. This essentially serves as a reader feeder—which automated readers that aren’t in use on the larger platform. 

Similarly, docking the incubator allows cells to be grown offline and then docked onto the system. There are a variety of additional assay peripherals placed onto fixed positions on the system: dispensers, centrifuges, a pipettor, and a washer. 

  • Cell based screening system
  • Cell based screening system
  • Cell based screening system
  • Cell based screening system

High Content Imaging Screening System

This is a High Content Imaging (HCI) screening system that enables both live and fixed cell imaging. The system must be designed to easily adapt to differing assay protocols while maintaining a relatively small footprint. It is easy to operate, has accessible hardware and dynamic scheduling software with adaptable error recovery as well as positive plate positioning, the ability to run multiple schedules in parallel, and rapid exchange of peripherals. The system can process: 

  • Barcoded and lidded cell/assay plates 
  • Barcoded and sealed compound plates 
  • Acoustic compound transfer 
  • Bulk reagent dispensing 
  • Plate washing 
  • Centrifugation 
  • Sealing/unsealing 
  • Lidding and de-lidding 
  • Cell base screening system
  • Cell base screening system

CoLAB Flex™

The client’s primary goal was to perform high-content imaging assays separately from their main screening system. They also needed to repurpose the equipment on this HCI system on their main screening system.  

We developed this CoLAB Flex™ based system to perform their fix-stain-imaging assays (2-day continuous assay). As their assay incorporates paraformaldehyde (PFA) to fix their cells, each tier of the CoLAB Flex cart is partially enclosed and contains an HVAC attachment port to protect the scientists from PFA vapors.  

Each device on this system can be un-docked, moved to the main screening system, and docked into place. This allows the client to repurpose the equipment when needed. 

  • Cell base screening system
  • Cell base screening system

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