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A custom-designed biosafety cabinet, understood to be the largest ever built in Australia, is set to transform the sample testing capabilities of Burnet Institute’s research laboratories.
Built to house the Institute’s Janus robotic workstation, which can perform more than 20,000 complex assays in a single day – at least four times what could be accomplished manually – the cabinet achieves two critical needs.
It will protect researchers from samples that might be infectious, and enable the testing of samples that require protection from environmental infections, such as bacterial or fungal contamination.
Image: Work begins to assemble the biosafety cabinet
“It means that we can do a lot of assays that we couldn’t do before, things like cell-based assays, in particular, or assays with parasites or viral cultures,” Laboratory Head, Dr Jack Richards, said.
“And we can now work safely with more infectious substances including human samples that we get from large population studies, which is one of our main interests.
“Thinking of malaria, for instance, there’s a lot of immunological questions that we can now start to address with a platform like this that we couldn’t do before, which is really exciting.”
Commissioned with funding from The Ian Potter Foundation, the cabinet is an imposing 3.3 metres in length and stands 2.8 metres high.
Image: Associate Professor Bruce Loveland prepares to help relocate the robotic workstation from its former site
It includes a complex heating and cooling system and an incubator to automate some of the parasite cell culture work, a process that would otherwise take several hours to complete.
The laboratory in which it’s situated required a major fitout complete with raised ceiling, protected space for maintenance access to the robot, and its own air-handling unit.
It’s the largest Class II Biosafety cabinet ever built by AES Environmental, an Australian manufacturer specialising in filtration, pollution control and critical containment.
“There’s a lot of wonderful technology out there, and it’s a matter of applying it to relevant research questions that have an impact on improving health outcomes or lead to exciting new scientific knowledge,” Dr Richards said.
Image: Installing the robotic workstation in the new biosafety cabinet
“We have a lot of technical ability, but high-end equipment like this, that’s been carefully designed and crafted to our needs, will allow us to expand and address the important biological questions that we are posing.
“The challenge now, of course, is to carry through with that work, so we will be looking to really expand the type of work that we do on this platform.”
The Perkin Elmer Janus automated workstation was purchased in 2012 with funding from the Joe White Bequest and two philanthropic supporters.
Image: Safely installed, some finishing touches still required