Microbiome experts ‘getting great results’ with Whitley Workstation

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Thomas Mitchell CEO BiomeBank with some of the research team

In late 2020, Don Whitley Scientific installed a Whitley A55 HEPA Anaerobic Workstation as a welcome addition to the research laboratory at BiomeBank, a clinical stage biotechnology company developing a Pipeline of live biotherapeutic products to treat disease. The company’s mission is to treat and prevent disease by replenishing gut microbial ecology.

BiomeBank’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Sam Costello said “the chamber is working well, providing the team with great results in their culturing studies. Thank you for your support in the set up and for supplying a quality product,” Dr Costello said.

Led by CEO Mr Thomas Mitchell and a world-leading team of translational microbiome experts, BiomeBank’s platform uses a unique combination of machine learning and microbiology to identify bacterial strains that influence disease, leading to the discovery and development of new therapies. Located in Adelaide, South Australia (SA), the company manufactures a broad-spectrum live biotherapeutic currently used to treat recurrent Clostridioides difficile.

BiomeBank’s GMP facility opened in March 2020 to enable the quality-controlled donation of healthy stool from donors, to provide safe access to faecal microbiota transplant material. Setting their sights on impact and growth, the company is developing multiple microbiome drug products, establishing itself as the leading microbiome company in the Asia Pacific region. BiomeBank is currently in the midst of a Series-A funding round, aiming to attract funding from both Australian and overseas venture capital investors.

Rueben Wheeler, Research Scientist at BiomeBank offered further insights into the use and general observations of the A55 HEPA system in the research conducted at BiomeBank’s facility. “Our work focuses on the development of 2nd generation live biotherapeutics for the unmet treatment of disease,” he said.

“We use the workstation to culture, isolate, identify and interrogate anaerobic microorganisms associated with health and disease, to better understand disease processes and to identify candidate microorganisms with biotherapeutic potential. We have always used anaerobic cabinets to achieve anaerobic conditions as they enable a high-throughput workflow, which has always been core to our discovery process. We did however start by using cabinets from other manufacturers and have found that none compared to the Whitley A55 Workstation.”

According to the BiomeBank team, the A55 cabinet maintains humidity levels much better than previously used cabinets.

“Our agar plates would desiccate rapidly, and we were unable to culture microbes beyond ~72 hours. Using the A55 cabinet, agar plates look the same at 72 hours as they did at inception. We have noticed the formation of new colonies at ~72 hours, which we can isolate and interrogate. We would not have been able to isolate these organisms using other systems,” Rueben said.

“We tend to take a lot of things in and out of the chamber every time we culture and need to use the airlock multiple times to move everything in and out. The speed at which it is purged is impressive.

“Our team finds the capacity of the chamber to be very convenient for our research. We tend to culture plates in stacks of 12 and these fit neatly under the shelf, allowing adequate workspace. At any given time, we have in the range of 100-400 plates in the chamber. Our workload is quite variable. There are weeks where the chamber is not used at all, whereas others where it is actively used for eight hours every day.”

Ultimately, the Anaerobic Conditions Monitoring System has improved the BiomeBank’s team confidence in the performance of the chamber. They have been able to determine the root causes of Ospikes and can monitor how quickly the chamber responds and is able to reduce oxygen tension.

“We find the touch screen display responsive, easy to use and it responds well when wearing gloves, as required in the laboratory. We find the data logging system is very useful and as we want to isolate and characterise fastidious organisms, it’s imperative we note the environmental conditions under which they could be grown,” Rueben said.

“We also found the training for the use of the workstation was minimal and able to be achieved in a couple of hours."

“BiomeBank decided to buy a Whitley Workstation as recommended by our collaborators who have been culturing anaerobic faecal microbiota for many years. The Whitley Workstation was recommended and purchased on the observation that many more fastidious, obligate anaerobes could be cultured when using the workstation as compared to other cabinets.”


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