COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has led to high demand for diagnostic testing of patients. Viral transport media (VTM) is a critical component of COVID-19 test kits, as it is used for the collection, transport, and storage of clinical specimens. As companies and laboratories accelerate the manufacturing of their test kits to meet the continued high testing demand, the ability to fill transport tubes with VTM quickly is an important step in the process.

Here, we describe a low-cost automated fluid dispensing system that is easy to use, while also remaining adaptable to a variety of tube/vial/plate formats. The system is suitable for many uses in biotechnology, chemical, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical labs.

Considerations for tube filling

Tube filling methods range from manual filling to large robotic liquid handlers. Manual tube filling is not well suited for processing large numbers of tubes, as it would be tedious and time-consuming. It is also prone to error and contamination.

The advantages of automated tube filling include better accuracy, reduction of labor costs, and increased productivity. While large-scale tube filling systems can handle higher throughput, they are often not practical. Large-scale systems can require long lead times and may be cost-prohibitive. In addition, small labs do not have the space to accommodate the large footprint associated with these systems.

We were a little apprehensive going with any liquid handling equipment. However, our confidence in Gilson and our sales rep convinced us to try their equipment. It has exceeded our expectations and we are glad we made the leap. We are ordering our second one very soon.

Brian P., Gilson Tube Filling Customer

Efficient, customizable tube filling systems to fit your budget

Gilson has developed a compact, low-cost tube filling system that has the flexibility to fill bottles, tubes, vials, or microplates and can help improve productivity (Figure 1). The system consists of:

• Adjustable dispense head spacing

• Flexible tube/vial/plate holders

• Peristaltic pumping technology for dispensing

It does not require an external computer or software, so it is easy to use. Its small footprint enables it to easily fit in a biosafety cabinet, making it ideal for small labs and the complete flow path can be sterilized, mitigating the potential for contamination.

Figure 1. An Example of a Gilson Tube Filling System Setup

TWO REAL-LIFE EXAMPLES: Gilson tube filling system for VTM dispensing

#1 Flexible, multi-channel set up for increased productivity

We recently worked with a major medical college in New York City that was providing COVID-19 test kits for public health testing. As they ramped up production, they wanted a method to dispense VTM into 15 mL tubes to process a minimum of 100,000 tubes per week with the potential of scaling to 250,000 per week.

For this lab, we configured an 11-channel system with four tube racks that each held 44 tubes in a 4 x 11 configuration. The system can process 140,000 tubes when running eight hours per day, five days a week. Using this system, they were able to meet their manufacturing goals and subsequently adjusted the system for lower capacity.

#2 Flexibility with a quick start-up time

At the beginning of the pandemic, we worked with a start-up biotechnology company that is making VTM kits for COVID-19 testing. In just three days, we set up a low-cost, single-channel system. “The unit is able to automatically fill each of the 15 mL conical tubes with the appropriate amount of viral transport media,” says Randy Nagy, President and CEO of Gentueri Inc. “We’re able to produce a few hundred of these tubes every hour.”

For both labs, having a flexible, scalable system that was up and running quickly enabled them to increase their productivity to meet their test kit manufacturing needs. The easy-to-sterilize flow path was also essential to ensure there was no contamination, which is critical for COVID-19 testing.

System customization

Gilson can work with you to offer a fully customizable tube filling system to meet your needs. With over 65 years of broad technical experience in developing and manufacturing manual and automated liquid handling systems for life science researchers, we have the expertise to customize a system for your specific application. In addition, we can provide rapid installation to have you up and running quickly.

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