Accelerating the Discovery of New Antimicrobial Compounds

Written by Bioscribe and Rutgers on July 20, 2018

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In the race to discover new antibiotics against high-threat pathogens, every minute matters. For researchers at Rutgers University’s infectious diseases screening and containment labs, the Echo® Liquid Handler system has been a critical time-saver.

Dr. Riccardo Russo, manager of the in vitro screening Core Laboratory directed by Dr. Nancy Connell at Rutgers Medical School’s Division of Infectious Diseases and its Biosafety Level 3 Containment Laboratory, oversees a variety of assays to test the effects of antimicrobial compounds on dangerous and multi-drug resistant bacteria in a quest to identify potentially therapeutic candidates.

In a recent Nature webcast, he described how automation and the miniaturization of samples enabled by the Echo system have saved him hundreds of hours and dollars, with less labor as well as fewer compounds and other supplies. They have also expanded the capabilities and accuracy of critical tests performed in the labs.

One of the cornerstone tests conducted in his labs, for instance, is the Minimal Inhibitory Concentration (MIC) assay. This test is done at the very beginning of the antimicrobial compound discovery process, to determine the lowest concentration of a compound that kills or inhibits visible growth of a bacterium. It requires serial dilution of the compounds into liquid wells, a process that can takes a few hours for manually testing several compounds. By switching to automated acoustic handling and 384-well plates, now it takes a few minutes to assays several compounds.

“We are now running thousands of assays versus hundreds before,” Dr. Russo said.

The time savings were even greater for other tests. The preparation of the time-consuming synergy assay, which tests different compound combinations, and the even more complicated Minimal Bactericidal Concentration (MBC) assay, now takes a few minutes instead of hours.

The accuracy of the Echo system has also been essential to improving some of the error-prone tests, Dr. Russo said. Compound carry-over can skew results and lead to miscalculations of MIC, which can in turn interfere with the proper design of future animal studies. The Echo system’s contact-less, acoustic dispensing significantly reduces this risk.

“The Echo has been very useful because we have been able to use much lower volumes of our compounds,” Dr. Russo said. “Since the instrument is using acoustic waves to dispense different amounts of compound, we avoid the problem of compounds sticking to tips or the wall of the wells, and we have saved a lot of supplies.”

Dr. Russo details other aspects of his work, and future applications of Echo technology, including mammalian cytotoxicity tests and an MIC test to determine which antibiotics can be used to treat bacteria once they get inside mammalian cells.

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