Caviglia is part of a team that investigates biomarkers in patient serum samples as part of their research on chronic liver diseases and inflammatory bowel diseases. In prior years, they sent their samples to a third party for analysis. However, in collaboration with the Department of Medical Sciences at the University of Turin, the team recently acquired a Bio-Plex™ Multiplex Immunoassay System for these analyses. Caviglia noted that it was Bio-Rad who brought up the idea of a hands-on onboarding session. “Our initial interaction was with the [sales team], but after installation, [Bio-Rad] proposed a practical session with their specialist. We welcomed that proposal, because we did not have any prior experience with this kind of instrument,” he said.
The training itself, Caviglia recalled, was a full day orientation, which was conducted by the FAS in Italian and included both a presentation and a practical component: “We were able to run a full experiment using our [old] samples, and we had the ability to touch the instrument, to encounter and deal with all of the [nuances of] the procedure.” The research team and the specialist were also able to explore the intricacies of the workflow. “For a procedure, there are some parts that can be tweaked and some parts that have to be followed very strictly,” Caviglia explained. “The specialist very precisely emphasized which parts of the protocol had to be followed strictly.”
Due to the nature of their research, Caviglia and the team did not have samples to use their newly acquired Bio-Plex Multiplex Immunoassay System until several months after this orientation session. As such, they asked whether the FAS could conduct a follow-up training session.
“It is important to run some experiments on your own within a month or two of any onboarding or training so that you do not forget important details,” said Caviglia. “We asked if they could help us, at least for the first round of experiments. [The scientist] came back and supervised us as we did the hands-on work. We didn’t run into any issues, but it was very reassuring to have [the FAS] there to double check everything. They were very kind to help us in this way.”
The effect of this specialist training from Bio-Rad has extended beyond Caviglia’s group. Caviglia, as the newly-trained local expert, is now in charge of running any assays requested by other research groups within the department. “There are many other research groups who are interested in using this instrument, in taking advantage of this instrument’s multiplexing capabilities,” Caviglia said, also highlighting how this in-house capability would give them results within a couple of days. In this way, acquiring and on-boarding the Bio-Plex Multiplex Immunoassay System represents a landmark for Caviglia and his research team, as well as new possibilities for the entire Department of Medical Sciences at the University of Turin.
Overcoming New Obstacles with New Solutions
When Sarang Brahma, MSc, first joined Asklepios BioPharmaceutical (AskBio) in 2020, viral vector titration was done via quantitative PCR (qPCR). The gene therapy company had also invested in Droplet Digital™ PCR (ddPCR™) technology but was not making full use of it. “We had the instrument and a connection with a [Bio-Rad] Field Application Scientist and everything, but the know-how of using ddPCR was just not there,” explained Brahma, now an Analytical Development Group Lead. That said, ddPCR technology was perceived within the company as a technology of the future. This, combined with some definitive shortcomings with qPCR — such as being reliant on a standard curve, as well as lower accuracy and precision — led the team to attempt to switch over to the newer technology.
In March 2020, they started talking to their FAS. At the time, AskBio had a working relationship with two individuals from Bio-Rad. “[Our FAS] was kind of our scientific expert, dealing with anything that goes with experimental design, data analysis, setting up methods, troubleshooting, and so on. We also had another individual who helped with the technical side [with the instrumentation],” Brahma said. These two took charge of guiding Brahma and AskBio through the process of becoming familiar with Droplet Digital PCR.
Learning Droplet Digital PCR in early 2020 was complicated by the arrival of COVID-19 pandemic, which made traditional in-person onboarding sessions impossible. Nonetheless, both Brahma’s team and their FAS had to make the most of the situation.
“Typically, you have an onsite walkthrough or demonstration, and we weren’t able to do that,” Brahma recalled. “However, [our two connections with Bio-Rad] patiently navigated us through the onboarding process using a series of seminars. They were even able to accommodate people within our group who had different levels of familiarity with ddPCR, helping everyone go at their respective paces. I was really impressed by their willingness to help their customers get used to a new technique.”
Brahma also noted that this process was helped by the thoroughness and detail of the protocols that were being taught, as well as supplementary videos on the Bio-Rad website that could help visual learners in the absence of actual hands-on options.
By Brahma’s own admission, switching from qPCR to Droplet Digital PCR was a big hurdle for AskBio. But their FAS was very persistent: “He was very adamant about the advantages of ddPCR. He maintained that once we were able to establish correct parameters, that we would stop using qPCR.” Brahma also marveled at the commitment level of their FAS. “His expertise was a constant throughout the whole process. Every time I had a question, I was able to reach out to him, and it was very comforting to have that kind of support. Even when he doesn’t know the answer, he’s willing to do additional research and see what he can find,” said Brahma. “Two years later, he was right. We don't run qPCR at all for most of our assays.” Bio-Rad experts are available to support customers like Brahma in their transition from qPCR to ddPCR, or in other cases, to help them decide what PCR technology is best suited for their research.
Moving Forward Together
Keith Green is a scientist at National Resilience, Inc. (better known as Resilience). As part of the assay development team, Green spends a lot of his time troubleshooting new assays, as well as fixing or optimizing existing assays. To do this, he relies on a strong understanding of the techniques and technologies underlying the assays that he strives to improve, and part of that involves establishing good relationships with instrument manufacturers. “When we contact Bio-Rad’s FASs, we can ask them either for help with their products or for their opinion on some data that we have just obtained using their [instruments],” he said.
By Green’s account, his relationship with Bio-Rad’s FASs largely centers around challenging samples. “If there’s something that we think or know will cause problems for the ddPCR workflow, we try to get their feedback on how to circumvent or mitigate those issues,” he said. “We would prefer not to modify the sample, so [we ask] whether there is any way that we can make the ddPCR process more amenable to the sample?” Noting that the answers to these types of questions are typically not readily available online or in journal articles, Green calls FASs a “wealth of knowledge.” He adds: “They've been very helpful in terms of trying to find ways to make samples more feasible for ddPCR, so that they can produce viable results that we can then use in our processes.”
Green himself is no stranger to ddPCR technology, having worked with the technique for several years and currently serving as the ddPCR subject matter expert for Resilience’s Alachua, Florida location. However, he hesitates to compare his knowledge of the technique to that of the FASs that he speaks to. “I frequently tell people that I’ve personally only used ddPCR for a fraction of the number of applications that it can be used for,” Green remarked.
“The biggest gap between myself and a Bio-Rad FAS [specializing in ddPCR] would be in the range of knowledge and experience. This is why their resources are invaluable to us when we have a non-functional, inefficient, or slow assay that needs to be improved. Instead of months of trial and error, I can go to them and see if they’ve encountered similar situations and developed solutions to them. Even if the answer is that their technology can’t support what we’re trying to do, that’s incredibly valuable for us compared to wasting our time trying to go through a wall that we can’t go through.”
Green’s FAS connections have become an integral part of his research activities, to the point where Green would describe their sudden absence as a “definite detriment to our work.” Whenever he runs into issues in the laboratory, one of his options is to simply make a phone call or write a quick email to the FAS. “They’re very open with their time, even offering to set up regular meetings every two weeks or on a monthly basis to review what’s been going on,” said Green. “In assay development and analytics, [having FASs] available to us is crucial in order to not only get information, but to get it rapidly.”
Bio-Rad’s FAS services offer value for scientists in a wide variety of career stages and research roles, whether onboarding a new instrument at an academic institution or ensuring the smooth day-to-day operation of a workhorse technique for industry assay development. Through these different situations, the binding tie is a focus on constant communication and support leading to the establishment of strong relationships. These relationships enable Bio-Rad FAS services to adapt to ever-shifting client needs, obstacles, and priorities.