3D image of the 'pillar plates' designed by University of North Carolina researchers to speed up the pipetting process in substance tests. Figure via: J.D. McCallen, A. Schaefer, P. Lee et al.

3D image of the ‘pillar plates’ designed by University of North Carolina researchers to speed up the pipetting process in substance tests. Figure via: J.D. McCallen, A. Schaefer, P. Lee et al.

The ELISA process

Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is a popular technique used for detecting substances, for example traces of nuts in food, or the presence of certain drugs in the blood stream. Shows such as CSI, NCIS and Person of Interest, are full of the examples of such tests, often dramatized as a technician in a white coat pipettes a liquid into a series of small wells.

In reality, a minimum of 12 rounds of pipetting is performed to achieve an adequate result, and when it’s all done by hand not only is it time consuming, but it’s also susceptible to human error and cross contamination. The alternative is to automate the process with robots – but this can be expensive and not always an option for all labs across the globe.

A 3D printed solution

For a robotics-free approach, J.D. McCallen, A. Schaefer, P. Lee et al. devised what they’ve termed ‘pillar plates’ that match the shape of conventional sample plates containing 96 and 384 individual wells. They used Autodesk Fusion 360 to convert the CAD part to .stl, and found Materialise’s service provided the most consistent 3D printed plates.

Design specification of the 96 pin pillar plate. Figure via: J.D. McCallen, A. Schaefer, P. Lee et al.

Design specification of the 96 pin pillar plate. Figure via: J.D. McCallen, A. Schaefer, P. Lee et al.

The schematic below shows how the pillar plates improve upon the traditional ELISA workflow. Note the small pipette icons on the right-hand side of the image, the additional transfer needed and the reduced wash time with a pillar plate.

Comparative schematic of the ELISA process. Figure via: J.D. McCallen, A. Schaefer, P. Lee et al.

Comparative schematic of the ELISA process. Figure via: J.D. McCallen, A. Schaefer, P. Lee et al.

North Carolina accelerate AM

The University of North Carolina has also been spearheading a Research Opportunities Initiative throughout 2016 which has granted millions of dollars to science projects in the state. The most recent research grant awarded $1.6 million to Advancing the Science and Practice of Metal-Based Additive Manufacturing led by Dr. Christopher Evans at the Center for Precision Metrology, supported by North Carolina State University.

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