The latest microplate readers can revolutionize life in the laboratory
BMG LABTECH shares the importance of having a suitable microplate reader and presents its latest technology, the VANTAstar
Eric Matthews, Vice President of Sales for North America at BMG LABTECH
Microplate readers are an integral part of daily life for many scientists in a wide range of life science applications. The type of microplate reader you have will affect the efficiency and capacity of your lab’s processes, from scientific research to manufacturing workflows. It is therefore important that laboratories are equipped with the best microplate reader for their unique applications.
In this SelectScience® interview, we chat with Eric Matthews, Vice President of Sales for North America at BMG LABTECH, who discusses advancements in microplate reader technology, provides insight into BMG LABTECH’s mission to produce plate readers quality and presents the latest product from BMG LABTECH, the VANTAstar™. Matthews also highlights how the VANTAstar addresses the challenges faced by scientists, from drug discovery and screening to benchtop R&D and academic labs.
What are the general objectives of BMG LABTECH and its products?
EM: BMG LABTECH is “the society of microplate readers”. For over 30 years, we have focused on microplate detection and producing quality plate readers for all types of users. If users are focused on drug discovery and screening, we want to produce the best reader for them, one that delivers the highest quality data from hard trials, fast. For research and development labs and academic labs, our goal is to provide reliable, easy-to-use tools that don’t hinder users from acquiring quality data.
How has microplate reader technology evolved over the past decades?
EM: There is an axiom that there are only two ways to build a business, one is to bundle something and the other is to unbundle something. Whether it’s true or not, it sometimes seems true. The dominant technology trend in plate readers for two decades has been to take reading modes that previously only existed in separate instruments – eg absorbance, luminescence – and put them on a single device; first with some obvious compromises for the user and later, finally, without compromises.
This trend continues as companies add cell imaging capabilities, packing what was previously a separate, dedicated instrument into a microplate reader enclosure. So far, this still requires researchers to balance trade-offs in detection quality. Plate reader makers are now like a pendulum, swinging back to focus on improving the core elements of the user experience. In recent years, the addition of dedicated atmospheric control excitation lasers, application-specific detectors, automatic sensitivity optimization, and tunable dichroic mirrors that users don’t have to think about or adjust, was a reversal of a two-decade trend. Readers become especially better at their primary job of measuring microplate assays, so people in the lab can focus on the science.
What are the biggest challenges your customers are facing today?
EM: At all levels, customers are interested in seeing technology operate as a lever – a fulcrum – that advances their knowledge and their time. They want to spend their lab hours thinking about biology, not the logistics of how to get their data or wondering if they have the right data or enough. This has been important for years, but the pandemic has accelerated the trend of letting researchers use their minds creatively to research and not use their time to simply complete tasks. Anyone who has spent time in a lab understands how a liquid handler automates the tedious manual task of removing liquid from wells and then adding more. But during the pandemic, this type of tool ceased to be a luxury and became a necessity. If users can’t be in the lab more than a day or two a week, their time needs to be optimized, optimized, and productive. It is more important than ever that laboratory equipment, and in particular detection technology, enable scientists to be scientists, not technicians. Our customers want reading a plate to be more like googling for an answer and less like spending an afternoon flipping through index cards in the library.
How does the VANTAstar meet these challenges?
EM: The VANTAstar has several design aspects that make it perfect for benchtop research. Most importantly, we focused on including the components every researcher needs and removing complexity. A streamlined, focused instrument takes up less bench space and makes it more efficient to manufacture, bringing value to customers. Besides size and value, the VANTAstar focuses on ease of use. The test optimization settings we introduced are like an autopilot for test optimization. New members of the lab and experienced plate reader users will each get excellent data without having to move apertures, adjust sensitivity settings, or optimize focal heights.
What features set the VANTAstar apart from current microplate readers on the market?
EM: Enhanced Dynamic Range (EDR) is a technology that removes sensitivity settings and focus optimization from the list of things most users need to understand or even think about. EDR means that if an inexperienced user approaches the player, all of their samples will have low noise. The weakest fluorescence or luminescent wells will be read with maximum sensitivity and the brightest wells will not be maximized or saturated. It does not add time to a test and works even if signal strength increases rapidly and dramatically during a measurement.
The other key feature of the VANTAstar is that we have integrated BMG LABTECH’s exclusive LVF monochromator and adjustable linear variable dichroic mirror into a new instrument. These increase efficiency over conventional monochromators, meaning VANTAstar users get excellent data without having to worry about whether they have a good enough optical setup. They do. A BMG LABTECH LVF monochromator is more sensitive than most other reader filters, so it removes an entire domain of assay drive, operation, and optimization from most fluorescence measurements.
Who would benefit from integrating the VANTAstar into their daily workflows?
EM: Many scientists liked to use a BMG LABTECH reader before and want to have one in their lab, but they may not be interested in advanced methods like AlphaScreen® or high density plate formats like 1536. The VANTAstar is for those users who would like the ease of use and performance of a BMG LABTECH reader but want an instrument focused on most basic laboratory needs. Because the VANTAstar has a small footprint, an easy-to-access plate carrier profile, and optimization and aperture settings that run on autopilot, it’s also an ideal reader to integrate into a robotic bridge or a liquid handling workstation.
What applications can the VANTAstar cover?
EM: The VANTAstar measures fluorescence with a monochromator, filters or a combination of both. The instrument covers all luminescence tests (including BRET with filters or a monochromator) and all common absorbance tests that use a tunable spectrometer. It will also measure time-resolved fluorescence, TR-FRET and fluorescence polarization.
What do you see for the future of BMG LABTECH and VANTAstar?
EM: BMG LABTECH is the only remaining major independent manufacturer of plate readers. Our goal of remaining engineering-centric requires us to remain customer-centric as well. Everyone understands why printer cartridges cost as much as the inkjet itself. BMG LABTECH does not want to force customers to purchase a product from us by introducing friction into the usability of a secondary product. The VANTAstar was produced because BMG LABTECH has a way of selling microplate readers – by making products our customers want to use. Scientists will love the VANTAstar because researchers can tell when a company is focusing on a core competency and producing the best possible products.