The Innovation Lab brings transformative tech right to the lab

13 January 2018

Technology Innovation is a hot topic, and our own Tech Watch team is working hard to facilitate the accelerated adoption of disruptive tech across VIB labs and Core Facilities. The team is scanning through papers, patents and press releases, for information about new innovations that could improve VIB’s research output. Its most recent science-boosting evolution? The creation of the ‘Flexible Innovation Lab’, a mobile trial center that allows scientists to get their gloves on the latest and greatest technologies, making it possible to incorporate them into their own projects even earlier.

It’s all about impact
The Flexible Innovation Lab doesn’t simply bring instruments to individual labs and Core facilities; it also supports early access instrument evaluations by facilitating troubleshooting processes and training initiatives, liaising with companies and VIB groups, managing budgets, ensuring the visibility of the tech across the institute and transferring best practices.

“By providing support and training, we aim to lower the threshold for VIB scientists to implement emerging technologies for their research, and thus impact scientific progress at VIB,” asserts Silvie Van den Hoecke, life sciences technology specialist at the Innovation Lab. “Technology has historically been a huge driver of major breakthroughs,” agrees Wai Long Tam, Silvie’s colleague. “It’s important for us to aid our scientists in getting access to the most advanced innovations.”

10X genomics chromium
One example of a big success enabled by the Innovation Lab is 10x Genomics Chromium, a platform that enables long read and single cell sequencing to study tissue heterogeneity. After a 6-month evaluation phase and relocating every two weeks between Leuven and Ghent, the technology was accessed by over 8 VIB groups. Both the Ghent and Leuven facilities now have systems and a volume discount for consumables.

Martin Guilliams (Group Leader at the VIB-UGent Center for Inflammation Research) asserts “The Innovation Lab from Tech-Watch has been essential for getting access to the 10X Chromium singlecell RNA-Seq technology rapidly. In fact, we were among the first 5 institutes to get access to this disruptive technology in Europe and 10X Genomics has chosen the VIB to organize their first 10X Community meeting in Europe. It has been great to work together with labs from VIB-Leuven and VIB-Ghent to get the technology working and exchange protocols. The results from all teams are really breath-taking and it’s thanks to the Innovation Lab that we remain at the forefront of technological advances!”

BioXP3200 from SGI-DNA
The BioXp3200, a benchtop DNA synthesizer, which allows you to go from sequence to synthesized fragment, clone or mutant library in 2 weeks, has dramatically reduced the time spent on waiting for standard DNA synthesis invested in traditional molecular cloning. The BioXp™ 3200 was placed in the lab of Thomas Jacobs as part of the Flexible Innovation Lab, where we opened DNA synthesis up to the whole institute.

Silvie Van den Hoecke (VIB Tech Watch): “In the first few months of the instrument placement, multiple mutant libraries have been successfully created and over 200 fragments have been synthesized in 13 VIB groups, across 5 centers.”

Thomas Jacobs (Group Leader at the VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology) asserts “The Innovation Lab enabled our group at the Center for Plant Systems Biology to be the first in Europe to have access to SGI-DNA’s new DNA synthesis machine, the BioXp™3200. Having the support of the Innovation lab team really made the experience of getting the machine relatively pain free. Their support in handling the negotiations, contracts, and ordering process has allowed the rapid uptake of DNA synthesis on the BioXp within our Center and across the institute in a matter of weeks”.

“The Innovation Lab truly enabled both the 10x Genetics Chromium, and DNA synthesis on the BioXp to be adopted at VIB so rapidly,” asserts Halina Novak, Technology & Innovation Manager. “Over the next year, we’ll be exploring a range of disruptive technologies such as in situ tissue omics platforms, Millifluidic devices for single cell isolation analysis & culturing, and 3rd generation sequencing instruments. As we did so successfully with 10x Genetics Chromium, we’re looking forward to working alongside VIB scientists to discover what these next-gen technologies are capable of!”

Upcoming Innovation Lab projects

  • GridION X5 and PromethION (Oxford Nanopore Technologies): enable real-time sequencing of DNA and RNA molecules, excluding amplification bias during library prep, and bringing new possibilities to epigenetic and epitranscriptomic projects.
  • Millidrop: a high-throughput millifluidics device for microbiological analysis, this tech brings the advantages of petri dishes/ microtiter plates in a droplet format for culture preparation, sorting, incubation and analysis.
  • CODEX (Akoya Biosciences): a high multiplex immunofluorescence staining platform that can measure up to 50 parameters in a single tissue slide using specialized oligotags.

Silvie Van den Hoecke, Halina Novak, Wai Long Tam